Wednesday, 3 February 2016


Genre mash-ups are something of a mixed bag, but when they work, they can really deliver.
Along with our beloved Horror, here at the House I also very much enjoy action flicks, especially some spirited martial arts. As well as an appreciation for Eastern cinema, I'm also a big fan of Westerns. Clint Eastwood's iconic roles in the Dollars trilogy and Unforgiven are among my favourites of all time, and I regard John Wayne as one of the most iconic Hollywood stars ever.
So, needless to say, I was excited to watch horror/western combo Bone Tomahawk, which stars one of my favourite actors, Kurt Russell. Russell is no stranger to cowboy flicks following his turn in the star-studded Tombstone and Quentin Tarantino's latest movie The Hateful Eight.
Would this effort chill me to the bone?
Or would I want to chop it down to size?
Read on...


Dir: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Evan Jonigkeit, Kathryn Morris, David Arquette, Sid Haig

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Buddy (Haig) and Purvis (Arquette) are a pair of bushwhacked — low-down, dirty ambush bandits who murder sleeping victims then pilfer their goods. However, their latest hit sees them accidentally stumble into the territory of a savage, primitively tribe of cave-dwelling natives and the war-painted troglodytes are not ones to allow the desecration of their holy land to stand.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) oversees a small town of cattle drovers, ably assisted by his young deputy, Nick (Jonigkeit) and elderly, dithering back-up deputy Chicory (Jenkins). When the decidedly suspicious-acting Purvis stumbles into the saloon it isn't long before Hunt works out that he is a wanted man and takes him into custody. 
As Purvis ended up wounded during the arrest, Hunt sends a local bounty hunter, the brash dandy, Brooder (Fox) for the town doctor. However, the doctor is drunk so Brooder instead calls on the doctor's assistant, Samantha (Simmons), who is currently caring for a patient of her own, her husband Arthur (Wilson) a cattle foreman who has been forced to miss the latest job after breaking his leg.
As Hunt leaves for the evening, Samantha tends to the injured Purvis while Nock stands guard.
The following morning brings a shocking revelation, the sheriff's office and cell stands empty while the body of a nearby stablehand reveals it to be the work of the deadly cannibalistic troglodytes.
With diminished resources Hunt sets out to rescue the three captives from the savages, joined by loyal Chicory, the skilled but unlikeable Brooder and the desperate liability that is the disabled Arthur.
As the four men ride out, they face all the dangers of the lawless West... and worse awaits them...

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Bone Tomahawk is a MAN-film. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is a film only for one gender, instead I'm saying this is a movie that is all about men and their relationships. The characters each stand for something, yet they also prove compelling and believable. 
Bone Tomahawk is a film that tells a fascinating story the old fashioned way — by giving us a disparate group of men who must exist together for a common goal, and examining not just their conflicts, but also their growing bonds.
In this way the script (by director Zahler) feels not unlike that other great MAN-film, Jaws, by way of the John Wayne classic, The Searchers. The writing for the characters is flawless, never over-egging the dialogue, instead willfully (and skilfully) downplaying it, keeping things subtle and relying on nuance.
Of course, the character work is helped by the absolutely awesome cast.
Russell is fantastic, an old-fashioned hero who you can't help but root for. He's clearly a man who has seen his share of trouble (and proves pretty handy with it), but his small town life has not prepared him for the horrors ahead. What's more his sense of duty, not just to the town he swore to protect but to the young deputy he roped into this mess, cannot allow him to rest, ignoring his imploring wife to head into the badlands to rescue them. Russell is a wonderful actor and he is perfect for this part. He's a joy to watch.
Even more efficient at dealing with the dangers that the journey may bring is Fox's Brooder. He's cocky, a dandy, decidedly prejudiced and racist about any of the other parties that may cross their path. However, there can be no denying his amazing survival skill, while the progressing story reveals the tragic events of his past that led him along this path. This fleshes the character out well, humanising him and smoothing off the rough edges from the character who at first seems a monster. Of course this is not truly the case, it is his sense of honour that sees him ride out to rescue the woman who he feels he endangered. Fox is superbly cast, a handsome man who uses that to give his character an air of superiority. He's also great at letting that air slip as he slowly warms to a group he originally clearly viewed as beneath him.
Chief among these 'inferiors' is clearly Jenkins' befuddled Chicory. Jenkins is a wonderful chracter actor and has never disappointed before. Once again he absolutely nails this part. The slow witted and mild-mannered Chicory could be something of an annoyance, but Jenkins makes the character sweet and somebody you really want to see make it out of the film alive. The writing for the character is nice and clearly establishes his relationship with others — after losing his wife Chicory's life lost meaning and Hunt, feeling some sympathy towards to his plight, took him on in a token role to give him some sense of purpose. You're never quite sure if Chicory understands he only has the position through sympathy, and Jenkins' always excellent work walks that line effortlessly.
The final part of our central quartet is that of Wilson's Arthur O'Dwyer. Arthur is a fascinating character, a man's man facing the fragility of his own form and with it, his inability to protect those he cares about from the dangers of the wider world. Wilson is fast becoming one of my favourite leading men here at the House, and this is another sterling outing from a face that will be very familiar to genre fans. I love the way that Arthur's chracter is the one with the most riding on this mission, but he is also the one most likely to cause it to fail. Some scenes involving his broken leg are certainly not for the squeamish and caused plenty of wincing from the audience with whom I saw the movie.
However, as gruesome as those moments are, few scenes can compete with the shocking scene towards the movie's climax. Having already seen the bestial and terrifying troglodytes in action we are shown in jaw-droppingly gory detail what victims of the savages can expect. This sequence alone is strong enough to make it clear why several movie-goers are classifying this film as a horror movie. What's more the effects work with the gory wounds on display throughout the picture are extremely impressive, as is teh sterling make-up work on the troglodytes.
The villains of the film are a singularly unsettling bunch, their unique calling card being that they don't speak to one another using any form of language, instead communicating via a series of hoots, woops and wails from a bone pipe embedded in their throats. Combine this with their chalky white warpaint, the savagery of their acts and their vile reveal in their home late on and we get some seriously nasty cinematic creations.
However, this is not just a movie about ugliness. The cinematography by Benji Bakshi is truly spectacular and the camera really captures the natural wild beauty of the sprawling vistas through which the group trek. The framing is awesome too, using some breathtaking wide angles to paint a celluloid work of art and really draw you into the film. The locations were all spectacular and Zahler and his crew knew exactly how to shoot them. Absolutely beautiful.
Finally, the tone of the story and the film itself deserve praise. It could have been very easy to create a campy, blood and guts, fun film, but Bone Tomahawk takes its subject DEADLY seriously. This means that it is a quieter, more intense film, but also a more rewarding one, and one which draws us in even deeper. The soundtrack reflects this, rather than rip-roaring Bonanza-esque Western riffs, we get a lot of subtle background music and several scenes play out in near silence. This heightens the tension, the isolation and builds a fantastic oppressive atmosphere, while encouraging us to listen that little bit closer to the superb dialogue as and when it comes. 
There was one line in particular, delivered towards the end of the film, that really stands out in an already great field. It was beautifully delivered, clever, but above all, paid off an emotional theme that carried through the whole movie and damn near brought a lump to my throat. Wonderful stuff.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Honestly, I think the biggest problem with Bone Tomahawk is that it's a movie that is extremely difficult to classify. Too slow for a traditional horror movie but far too visceral for your average western, this is a film that may struggle to find an audience. However, for those prepared to think outside the comfortable constraints of genre-classification, the rewards are plenty.
Yes, it is deep and its runtime may be a little overlong, but it's a world worth immersing yourself in. There is gore and grue, but this is no throw your popcorn at the screen and laugh, slasher flick. The violence is disturbing, shocking and plays a key part in the plot.
The pacing may throw some watchers and, in truth, it is a little erratic, with a lengthy lag in the middle. I appreciate what this does — it lulls us into a false sense of security before subjecting us to the horrors of the troglodyte's lair. It's an effective and well utilised device but the fact remains that it feels somewhat disjointed. Those of you who don't invest in the characters as much as I did may find yourselves fidgeting.
This middle section also does very little to advance the plot. Basically, some stuff happens, it stops happening and we move on with little consequence or at least consequences that feel rather shoehorned in purely to lengthen the journey to the climax.
As bloody as the finale is, it is also a little underwhelming. I was expecting something more spectacular, more thrilling, but as was the way throughout the rest of the movie, rather than embrace the expectations of Hollywood spectacle, it chooses to dash them, instead opting for a grim and gritty realism.
In short, Bone Tomahawk is not your average horror movie, nor is it your typical western. Instead it takes elements of both to create a brave and fascinating hybrid. Viewers who come seeking one or the other may be disappointed, but those like myself, who love both dearly, may bear witness to the birth of a new cult favourite.

THE VERDICT: It has its issues, but despite these, I ADORED Bone Tomahawk. Earlier I called it Jaws meets The Searchers. Add a pinch of The Hills Have Eyes and you're in the right place. Beautiful and disturbing visuals and some brilliant characters brought to life by an incredible cast, Bone Tomahawk is a real hidden gem. Check it out when it hits UK screens on 19 February.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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