A couple of outlaws in the turn of the 20th century west find themselves in a tribal burial ground (well, that’s bound to go well). One meets a brutal end, the other (David Arquette) escapes to the small town of Bright Hope, where he is shot and arrested. In the dead of night the outlaw, the deputy guarding him and the doctor’s assistant seeing to his wounds are abducted. Cue the assembly of the archetypical western posse led by Russell’s grizzled Sheriff Hunt and comprising the hobbled, good guy cowboy and husband to the abducted doctor’s assistant, Arthur (Wilson), the old timer deputy Chicory (Jenkins) and the gunslinging dandy Brooder (Fox). So far, so standard, but that is the genius of ‘Bone Tomahawk’, because nothing is what you expect. Rather than a ‘Searchers’ style recovery mission, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ becomes a hellish encounter with a primal throwback that has more in common with the cave dwellers of ‘The Descent’ or the cannibal exploitation films of the 70s.
Rather than western stoicism, we are treated to dialogue that is both instantly authentic and beautifully poetic. Each and every character is a well-rounded believable human, with flaws, dignity and complexity. The dialogue even allows for humour, but make no mistake, this has a level of brutality that is not for the faint of heart. The landscape is shot to showcase the beauty of the west, but also its intimidating nature, even expansive landscapes can become terrifyingly claustrophobic. Each and every actor is at the top of their game, and Russell, Wilson, Fox and Jenkins, who are never bad, have never been this good before.
Complex and simple, original and familiar, brutal and charming, epic and claustrophobic, beautiful and horrific. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is a film of contradiction. The only certainty is how bloody good it is. This is a strong contender for my film of 2016.
Review by Mark Moynihan
Bone Tomahawk is out now on home entertainment.