Western/horror mash-ups don’t come along very often, but when they are as high calibre as this one, you kind of wish they would.
Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk is a film where unnecessary dialogue is cut right back to the bone and the little conversation there is, is laced with humour that is so dry it almost rattles. Set in a one-horse town run with quiet efficiency by Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), it starts out bloody and just keeps getting bloodier.
When a stranger (David Arquette) comes into town, Deputy Sheriff Chicory (a wonderfully deadpan Richard Jenkins) spies him burying some bloody clothes. There’s a confrontation in the town’s only bar where Hunt shoots and injures the man which is when Samantha (Lili Simmons), the local nurse, is called upon to remove the bullet.
But the next morning, Samantha doesn’t return to her husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) who has been injured in a fall and it soon becomes apparent she, the stranger and Hunt’s youngest deputy have been captured by a band of cannibalistic, incestuous, cave-dwelling Indians who had been tracking the stranger.
Now it’s up to Hunt, Chicory, Arthur and the town’s local dandy Brooder (Matthew Fox) to track the Indians back to their lair to try and rescue Samantha at least.
This is where the film morphs into a weird horror story, as the rescue party suffer some serious setbacks including Arthur’s broken leg having to be reset, all their horses and provisions being stolen and Brooder getting trigger-happy and shooting before asking any questions. Things don’t get any better when our woebegone band of would-be heroes actually get to the cave – which is when things turn seriously strange.
Throughout the movie Zahler keeps the direction and the tension as taught as a bow-string, never allowing things to become hysterical, and his actors return the favour by delivering performances that are low key, considered and finely tuned. The interaction between Russell and Jenkins is particularly fine and you really believe these two men have known and worked with each other for so many years, they no longer need words as such, but communicate by their own personal shorthand.
While pure horror fans may find this too tame for their tastes, the squeamish may have to look away at two particularly brutal and shocking scenes and if they don’t, nightmares may follow.
This is a film that gets under your skin and stays there. It’s small but packs a punch way beyond its weight and is much more unsettling than it has any right to be.