When a group of cannibal savages kidnaps settlers from the small town of Bright Hope, an unlikely team of gunslingers, led by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), sets out to bring them home. But their enemy is more ruthless than anyone could have imagined, putting their mission – and survival itself – in serious jeopardy.
"If you want to question my morals, do it later."
When a movie that mashes up genres like romance and thrillers, or action and comedy, or horror and comedy, you can sometimes walkway with cinematic gold. While smashing genres is never a means to guarantee the quality of the final product, it at the very least, offers up the opportunity for the audience to experience something new. For the western, the genre tends to stand on its own. Sure there are some dabbles into comedy, science fiction and there is an inherent romantic quality to the films, but more often than not, westerns stand alone. Horror proves to be an excellent bedfellow for westerns and there aren't too many examples of the genres crossing paths. 'Bone Tomahawk,' directed by S. Craig Zahler and starring Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson takes a stab at crossing the classic western with horror and the results are a gloriously gory spectacle of practical visual effects and atmosphere.
Not much ever happens in the town of Bright Hope. The people are a close knit community because, well, there just isn't anyone else around. With the local saloon being the only source for entertainment, inevitably it will draw in some trouble. Trouble comes to Bright Hope in the form of a bushwhacker by the name of Purvis (David Arquette). It turns out eleven days earlier Purvis and his partner in crime Buddy (Sid Haig) had come across a camp of people, cut their throats, stole their belongings and when they thought someone was after them, they let out into the hills. Thinking they'd find shelter and safety, they instead stumble upon an ancient burial ground. When they accidentally desecrate the burial site, Buddy is butchered on the spot and Purvis runs for town.
Since Purvis wasn't a local, he naturally gets some attention - especially when he's seen by the town's backup deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) burying his stolen goods. When Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) shoots Purvis in the leg as he tries to run away, they need Samantha O'Dwyer (Lili Simmons) to extract the bullet. Thinking everything is wrapped up good and tight, Hunt goes home to bed. The next morning he awakens to learn that the town had been silently attacked. A stable boy was butchered, the horses stolen and Mrs. O'Dwyer, along with Purvis and Deputy Nick were taken by renegade Indians. Only this isn't like any tribe anyone has ever encountered. The only evidence they left behind was a single arrow where the arrowhead was fashioned out of bone.
According to resident native Tall Trees (Zahn McClarno), there was an old legend his people told of a band of sub-human Indians that live in caves, deep into the rocky hills who feed off the flesh of humans. The only word Tall Tress has to describe them is Troglodytes. These creatures are more animal than people. With time against them, Hunt bands together a small search party to go out after them. With Samantha's injured husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson), Chicory, and the mysterious gunfighter known as Brooder (Matthew Fox), Hunt takes charge in hopes of finding the woman, his deputy, and his prisoner alive. As the days and nights stretch on, the search party soon realizes they're ill-prepared for the savagery that awaits them.
'Bone Tomahawk' is one of those movies where about 75% of the film is a languid-paced but still tense western, and then all of a sudden in the film's final act, it becomes something far more horrific and visceral. It's a film that when it decides to up the horror ante, it pulls no punches as a cavalcade of thick corn syrupy blood erupts from severed limbs and open wounds. Whether or not this on-a-dime turn toward splatter horror is welcomed or not depends entirely on the viewer. If you're thinking you're going to just sit back and watch a traditional western, the third act plunge into horror could be more than a little jarring. However, if you're someone that doesn't mind seeing people being torn to pieces with an unflinching camera that rarely, if ever, looks away, then 'Bone Tomahawk' is your movie.
Essentially this is an exploitation horror movie wrapped around a western and for my money, the results are pretty fantastic. Part of what helps this movie sell itself is the impressive star-studded cast of known actors. Names like Kurt Russel, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins have all been associated with bigger, better, and more prestigious films - but the gory and visceral nature of 'Bone Tomahawk' hasn't kept them from delivering some fine performances here. Kurt Russell is as always great when he sports a 19th-century mustache and grizzled beard and here as Sheriff Hunt, he's right at home. Matthew Fox is one of those actors whose post 'Lost' career has taken an odd trajectory as he dramatically altered his physical appearance for 'Alex Cross' and here he proves he's a chameleon. It took me quite a while to realize Fox was who he was and his cocky yet screwed gunslinger is a richer character for the effort. Patrick Wilson turns in another fine performance as a man with a broken leg hell-bent on finding his wife. Every time the man falls and you hear that tell-tale crunch, you feel the man's pain - and then you see the leg!
If I am going to take a moment to single out a specific performance, I have to cast a light on Richard Jenkins as Chicory. He plays an aging man who recently lost his wife. It's clear that he's not quite the sharpest tool in the shed, but he's honest and loyal, and Jenkins fills the character with an innocence that makes him endearing. It didn't take me long to feel like he was channeling a little bit of Walter Brennan's Stumpy from 'Rio Bravo.' Out of anyone in the group, he's the one you like the best and want to see survive the nightmare.
As much as I loved 'Bone Tomahawk' as an exploitation throwback horror/western, the film does have some issues working against it. For starters, the film at about two hours and twelve minutes is about twenty to thirty minutes too long for its own good. I appreciate that the film takes its time to setup and introduce characters, but the second act suffers for it. As we're supposed to be building up suspense and tension, some midpoint plot beats start to feel a bit redundant. That isn't to say that the film is dragged down entirely by the slower start, but I feel like had the film gotten to the gory good stuff in a little more efficient manner the film would have worked better as a whole. Also, there is a striking similarity to J.T. Perry's 2008 film 'The Burrowers.' In terms of plot setup and structure, they're virtually identical, but, I would still tip my hat towards 'Bone Tomahawk' as the stronger of the two.
All in all, 'Bone Tomahawk' was a wild ride of a movie. I knew going in that there was going to be some pretty intense gore and some visceral moments, but I didn't expect the movie to go that far with it - in a good way. More than once I let out an "Ooooohhh!" or an "Oh, damn!" and more than a few "I can't believe they just did that!" moments. If you're someone who enjoys a traditional western who doesn't mind more than a little bodily dismemberment with some smart uses of humor to alleviate the tension, you should be very pleased with 'Bone Tomahawk."
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Bone Tomahawk' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to RLJ Entertainment pressed onto a Region A locked BD50 disc. Housed in a standard case with identical slip cover, the disc opens to trailers for other RLJ releases before arriving to the film's animated main menu.
The scenic beauty and grisly nastiness of 'Bone Tomahawk' shines with crystal clarity in this 2.40:1 1080p transfer. The film's production design is front and center here. With limited practical sets to worry about, the film makes great use of the Southern California landscape showcasing every scraggily looking rock and scrub brush the scenery has to offer. Costuming is allowed its day in the sun as well as facial features and textures - Kurt Russell's beard is a real standout here. Colors skew towards the warmer, golden tones, leaving facial features looking tan but still healthy. Primaries have enough pop, especially the color red and deep crimson hues. Black levels are deep and inky with plenty of shadow separation creating an image that maintains a strong sense of three-dimensional depth to it throughout. Where there are some slight trouble spots is during the night shots. They don't quite dip into crush territory, but some scenes are very dark and can be a bit difficult to understand what is happening in relative space. All around this is a pretty fantastic looking movie and given that it is a western starring Kurt Russell, it makes me wish the 'Tombstone' Blu-ray would have been treated as well as this one.
With an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track, 'Bone Tomahawk' enjoys a rich and immersive surround sound experience. Part of what makes 'Bone Tomahawk' an effective western and horror film is the rich sound design. For a film that is mostly a quiet traditional western, the audio track is filled with a sense of expansive space. Gunshots echo out into eternity while foot steps crunch on gravel feel close and discomforting - like someone is sneaking up behind you. Then the horror aspects of the movie kick and and the audio is full of gooey and squishy noises to keep the channels active. Dialogue is full of that rich exaggerated western style and is clean and easy to hear without any distortion effects to contend with. Imaging, although subtle, features constant channel movement. The track keeps to the midranges and levels are pitch perfect. A fantastic audio track that serves the needs of this movie perfectly.
The Making of Bone Tomahawk: (HD 10:04) This is a pretty basic, EPK style behind the scenes feature with the cast and crew talking about the film.
Deleted Scene: (HD 2:30) It's a nice coda scene for the end, but it's a little too cute given everything that had just happened leading up to this moment. Nice, but a good editor was on hand to cut that.
Fantastic Fest Q&A: (HD 34:40) This is a Q&A session featuring the cast and director S. Craig Zahler. It's a pretty great Q&A session and S. Craig Zahler appears genuinely grateful to his cast and crew for working with him during a swift 21 day shoot.
Trailer: (HD 2:30) This is the trailer that hooked me and got me interested in catching this flick.
'Bone Tomahawk' is one of those movies that you're either going to love or hate depending on your personal proclivities. I love a good western and I love a good horror movie and 'Bone Tomahawk' delivered both to me in a nicely wrapped little package featuring a great cast turning in some fine performances. RJL has put together a pretty great Blu-ray release of this film featuring a terrific A/V presentation along with some decent extra features. If you're a horror or westerns fan, consider this one recommended.