Most film fans realize that Kurt Russell starred in a brutal, bloody western in 2015. Few, however, are aware that he actually appeared in two. Only one manages to be crackling good, though–maybe even near great, is more accurate. And it’s not the one directed by Quentin Tarantino. No, this destined to be a cult classic, was written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, who is making his feature debut in that respect. And although, Mr. Russell receives top billing, the film sports an impressive supporting cast that includes Patrick Wilson and Richard Jenkins. Be warned though, “Bone Tomahawk” contains the single most disturbing scene of violence that I witnessed all of last year. If you consider that I’m calling “The Hateful Eight” the lesser unnerving adventure, you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for.
It’s the 1890’s, and two malicious thieves stumble onto a Native American burial site, after committing a robbery. One of them is attacked a killed by a stealthy assassin there, while the other manages to escape. Eventually hiding out, in a small, hardscrabble western American town called Bright Hope, he’s spotted by the deputy Chicory (an excellent Mr. Jenkins), while burying his stolen goods. Alerting Sheriff Franklin Hunt, the crook is later arrested in the town saloon, after being shot in the leg by the lawman. Meanwhile, foreman Arthur O’Dwyer is home with a broken leg, as his doctor’s assistant wife, Samantha (a strong Lili Simmons) tends to him. But the sheriff summons her to treat his wounded prisoner at the local jail. Then, both nurse and wounded man are kidnapped by the same forces from the burial site. When it’s determined that they were taken by a vicious, troglodyte tribe, a posse is formed to search for them. It includes Sheriff Hunt, the injured O’Dwyer, Chicory, and a local crack shot named, John Brooder (a superb, Matthew Fox). Only a select few will survive the rescue attempt.
“Bone Tomahawk” was barely released last year in theaters, but did enjoy a period on VOD, at the same time it was in scattered cinemas. And it’s a hidden gem for those that enjoy a western sprinkled with some unspeakable horror. The scene I speak of, is relatively brief, but done in a naturalistic way with practical special effects. The reaction of the onlookers accentuates the dread and terror–its a difficult image to shake. But it’s also perfectly appropriate to drive home the inherent danger in the mission. This film represents Mr. Zahler’s debut as a writer and director, and I greatly anticipate his sophomore effort. The simple intricacy of his screenplay, the patient direction that doesn’t rely on being “busy”. The forlorn music filled with dread (Mr. Zahler had a hand in that too!). Besides those already mentioned, the learned and eclectic cast includes David Arquette, Sean Young, and Sid Haig. Be brave, and seek this one out.