Bone Tomahawk had it’s world premiere as the closing night film of Fantastic Fest 2015, and it was an excellent choice to end the festival. The crowd loved it. Kurt Russell has aged well and still has tremendous screen presence. He delivers one line so emphatically that it gave me chills and made the audience applaud. Vintage Kurt. This isn’t a one pony show though. Richard Jenkins is hilarious, and Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox are at their best.
S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut (from his own script) has been dubbed a “Cannibal Western.” It does have a particularly nasty brand of antagonist; a group of flesh-eating creatures known as troglodytes who are responsible for one of the most grotesquely memorable on-screen kills I’ve seen. But, for the majority of the film, Bone Tomahawk plays like a standard Western. It is largely character-driven, is slower than one would expect, and has lots of dialogue. It features guys with guns and horses; fellas on the trail. It takes a while for the troglodytes to show up. “Cannibal Western” sounds good from a marketing standpoint and the ‘Cannibal’ part was probably played up to attract horror fans. All I’m saying is that if you’re into Westerns, but are on the fence because of the cannibals, don’t be. Zahler has some fun playing with genres–and it has it’s dark moments–but this is a Western at heart.
The story is simple: A sheriff and his crackpot crew set out to rescue some townfolk that are taken and held captive by troglodytes. It’s an ensemble piece and one weak link could hamper the movie, but everybody pulls their weight. Zahler makes it easy with the script, which is quite funny–oddly so at times. People will be quoting Jenkins’ character on the ride home. He creates a lovable sidekick and steals the show. Wilson plays the loving husband who desperately wants to save his wife (Lili Simmons), but is hampered by an injury. He’s the personification of persistence, and makes you feel every painful step. Fox, as a debonair gunslinger with zero scruples, has his own indelible scene, and Russell is a pleasure to watch as the grizzled sheriff. (Bring on The Hateful Eight!)
Zahler didn’t just write and direct, he also scored the movie with Jeff Herriott. The themes they created complement the images on-screen without resorting to amateurish emotional cueing. His direction is steady and mature for a first-timer, slowly building up to the bloody third act.
Most of the cast was in attendance and participated in a Q&A after the screening. Russell was not able to make it due to a non-serious injury. The screening was followed by the Fantastic Fest Closing Night Party that took place in a bona fide ancient cowboy town dressed to look like the movie.
3.75 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
Bone Tomahawk is now playing in Houston at Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park. Tickets here.
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