FROM JUNE 13 / CERT. 18
EVENGE IS A DISH best served hot, or at least lightly roasted, for the villains in first-time director S. Craig Zahler’s delightfully grisly Western — a tribe of cannibals who kidnap folk, scalp them alive, snap their limbs like wishbones and then chow down on the bloody remains. That’s the fate facing any frontiersman who wanders into their burial ground. These cave-dwellers are truly from a most unusual stock — “inbred animals who rape and eat their own mothers”, we’re informed.
Certainly, their meal preparation is gruesome and they blind and hobble their womenfolk. But don’t be fooled. For all the horror tags, this is not a film defined by schlock and gore. It starts with a throat-slicing, but the bloodletting doesn’t begin in earnest until the climax. Up until then, Bone
Tomahawk plays as a dialogue-rich, old-timey Western, focused on four townsmen bickering their way across a forbidding landscape to rescue their kidnapped brethren.
And what a motley, brilliantly cast crew they are. The group is led by a heavily whiskered Kurt Russell, the sort of sage, unemotional sheriff who might front a John Ford movie. Also on board are his likable, white-bearded deputy (Richard Jenkins), and a neatly moustached and smart-alecky gunslinger (Matthew Fox) who, like John Wayne in The
Searchers, is driven by disdain for Native Americans. The group’s rounded out by a clean-shaven gent whose wife’s been abducted (Patrick Wilson).
The foursome’s interplay is the fish in Zahler’s chowder, and their sharp turns of phrase — “Mr. Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of manifest destiny” — make for fine dining. The cinematography adds extra flavour with its stark depiction of a primeval land. Some, however, might find the film’s chatty middle too flabby.
But when that battle arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The baddies are terrifying, and the final showdown, featuring an interesting use of a hip flask, is taut and inventive. Sadly, the extras here are ordinary, with two on-stage Q+AS and a featurette made from generic junket interviews. Still, the main event more than compensates. Shot on a tiny budget in just 21 days, Bone Tomahawk is as piercing, and as pitiless, as its name suggests.
Above: Richard Jenkins and Kurt Russell regret taking the law into their own hands. Below: Don’t mess with Sid Haig when he’s hungry...