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  • Benjamin May

Bone Tomahawk (2015) Review

In the old American West, a bandit unwittingly leads a troupe of cave-dwelling cannibals to the town of Bright Hope. There, the troglodytes wreak havoc: stealing horses, murdering a stable boy and kidnapping the local doctor's daughter. A rescue party is quickly formed, consisting of Bright Hope's aging Sheriff, his aged Deputy, a cocky gunslinger and the kidnappee's husband. Warned of the savages' infamous reputation- and having to contend with the husband's broken leg- the four set out; though their journey proves to be far more dangerous than anyone expected.

Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, 'Bone Tomahawk' is a brilliant, bloody film that you'd be hard pressed to forget. The story is presented in a typical western style, though is completely original in terms of content and tone. Part-western, part-horror, Zahler's screenplay is full of pulpy, Tarantinoesque dialogue and his characterization is rich. He successfully balances moments of tense violence, introspective quietude and humor in a way that reminds one of Takeshi Kitano. At times playing like a bizarre mixture of 'The Searchers' and 'The Hills Have Eyes,' 'Bone Tomahawk' has a lot to offer.

Lovely visuals, for one. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi's work is assured and epic in scale. Utilizing a variety of wide-angled lenses, he captures the grandeur of the American landscape in a way evocative of John Ford. In moments of action, Bakshi's intuitive Steadicam operation ensures the violence hits as heavy as possible. Additionally, Freddy Naff's production design is highly detailed and textured, lending locations a feeling of authenticity. The striking work of costume designer Chantal Filson also doesn't go unnoticed, contributing greatly to the film's overall visual aesthetic.

In addition to its lush visuals, 'Bone Tomahawk' boasts a fine score from Zahler and Jeff Harriott that is atmospheric and- at times- deeply unsettling. The tracks 'In The Defile' and 'Dragged Along A Course Road' are particularly memorable, and used to great effect, bolstering the ominousness of the villains of the piece. The work of Greg D'Auria and Fred Raskin must also be mentioned, as their tight editing keeps the film from dragging- quite a feat, considering the run time of 132 minutes.

'Bone Tomahawk' finds Kurt Russell headlining as Sherriff Franklin Hunt. Always a commanding presence on screen, Russell plays Hunt as a straightforward fellow wearily dedicated to seeing justice done; a kind of bitter Gary Cooper. Russell shows a great subtlety of style, giving a multifaceted performance that ranks alongside his best. Patrick Wilson co-stars as the crippled husband of the kidnapped woman, the 'straight man' of the bunch, if you will. Though less colorful, Wilson makes the chap engaging, and he has our sympathies throughout.

Matthew Fox plays the gunslinger Brooder- a slick chap fond of blowing his own trumpet- and is marvelous; clearly reveling in the chance to play such a cad. Alongside them, Richard Jenkins delivers a masterclass in comedic acting as Deputy Chicory, all but stealing the film with his good-natured buffoonery. Jenkins, in his inimitable, understated way, makes the character well-rounded and engaging- lending credo to the notion that he is one of his generation's most underappreciated actors.

To cut a long story short, 'Bone Tomahawk' will have you gripped from start to finish. S. Craig Zahler's screenplay is full of unexpected moments, his characterization is strong and his direction is deft. With alluring cinematography and a fine score- as well as commendable performances from all in the cast- this is one you don't want to miss. As a western and as a horror, 'Bone Tomahawk' is frighteningly good.


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