Next up on our hunt for Hidden Gems is a lovely little western which was given a small theatrical release in 2015. Bone Tomahawk is one of those films you hear about but never have much interest in viewing, the film managed to evade my gem detector for the better part of year.
When I looked into the film, my interest was peaked by the cast alone. It features Kurt Russell, Snooty Ushers’ dependable Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox. Written by novelist S.Craig Zahler, this is also the writer’s directorial debut and what a way to start. Bone Tomahawk is a beautifully crafted Horror/Western hybrid. Thematically and stylistically, it echoes Eli Roth’s Green Inferno (2015) in which a group of people are pitted against some very unfavorable odds. Bone Tomahawk plays on the viewers perception of what a modern western can truly look like, it shows you just how brutal things were. It doesn’t shy away from showing some pretty gruesome deaths and highlights just how dirty and unhygienic everything was.
The film opens with a pair of cutthroat bandits robbing and murdering a poor innocent, they bury the body on sacred ground and then things take a turn for the worse when they awaken the cannibalistic troglodytes. Before I move on it is worth mentioning a lovely bit of casting, Sid Haig (a Rob Zombie veteran), his presence, if only in a fleeting cameo, sets the tone for things to come, as soon as I saw him featured at the start I could kind of guess what type of film this was going to be.
Bone Tomahawk gets the ball rolling when we reach the town of Bright Hope. We meet a group of classic Western characters, The grizzled sheriff, a loyal deputy, a rich gunslinger and an injured Cowboy. After spending a questionably long time with cowboy Arthur O’Dwyer (Wilson) and his wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) establishing the pair’s mutual love and that O’Dwyer is badly injured. Lili is taken along with 2 others, kidnapped by an unseen force.
Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), O’Dwyer, Deputy Chicory (Jenkins) and rich gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox in what I feel is his strongest acting role since Lost) go to seek out the Troglodytes that kidnapped O’Dwyer’s wife. What follows is a fantastic romp through the old west with the group of uneasy travelers who are all there for their own reasons. What’s great about the group dynamic is that none of them really like each other and its kind of each to their own, throughout the film you never really get a sense of camaraderie or any mutual feelings, which is brilliant because you never really see a dynamic like that.
What puts a huge twist in this film are the villainous Troglodytes, with most westerns, we get the usual Cowboys and Indian dynamic, but in Bone Tomahawk Zahler has crafted an unforgettable and grotesque looking enemy, who’s tactics involve straight up primitive brutality. As the film progresses we find out the troglodytes have plagued the land for years and all townsfolk and surrounding tribes wish to see them gone. This is motivation for Matthew Fox’s character, a gunslinger who shows little respect or compassion for non-white characters.
The real winner in this film for me is Patrick Wilson, he has a great back story, and is genuinely very likable. He’s one of those actors that keeps appearing in films and always impresses, yet people try to talk about him and it’s so hard to think of his name. Maybe that means he’s doing a brilliant job because if you do your job right no-one bats an eye but if your doing it badly then someone will point it out. The true definition of a dependable.
Now, it’s really difficult to talk about the last 45 minutes of the film as its some of the most atmospheric and dirty cinema I’ve seen in years, the soundtrack is muted as the violence takes place, which adds to the visceral nature of whats being shown. I sometimes feel there is a real disconnect in film when a soundtrack is being played over action, so its very refreshing to see that Zahler took a risk and it really paid off. The action feels visceral, raw and often makes you wince and look away from the screen. The thought of marrying these two genres is genius and works even on multiple viewings. I urge anyone to seek out this film and watch it, you won’t be disappointed and I can guarantee you will recommend it to someone on the basis you want to see and hear the reactions from them.