Bone Tomahawk Review

Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) leads a squabbling posse in pursuit of a band of cannibal tribesmen who have abducted an injured prisoner and a doctor from his jail.

by Kim Newman |
Published on
Release Date:

19 Feb 2016

Original Title:

Bone Tomahawk

This exceptionally gruesome Western literally demonises its Native American menace, though it takes care to have a sensible voice (David Midthunder) explain that the tribe they’re up against are as savage as know-nothing whites believe all Native Americans are. In the end, the made-up tribe of bone-weaponry-using, mud-smeared grotesques are just another bunch of Hills Have Eyes-style mutants.

A mash-up of The Searchers and Cannibal Ferox, this is a pretty strong prairie stew.

The film takes its time to give depth to each of its archetypal western characters: moustached and settled sheriff Kurt Russell, hot-tempered and crippled Patrick Wilson (whose wife has been abducted), garrulous and whiskery deputy Richard Jenkins and fancy-dressed mercenary Matthew Fox. The riders’ horses are stolen halfway through, forcing them to hobble across rough terrain towards the cave lair where the Grand Guignol last act plays out – including one spectacularly appalling cannibal dismemberment – with effects far more convincing than in the ‘80s chop-em-up-and-eat-'em video nasties.

Despite that, this is as much a comedy as a cowboy horror film. Jenkins’s free-associating mutterings are inspired and fanciful, and feisty heroine (Lili Simmons) has a terrific speech about how the real peril of life in the Wild West isn’t ‘Indians’ or the weather “but the idiots”.

Its influences veer all over the map, with stretches recalling the Coen brothers punctuated by echoes of Rob Zombie. Naturally, there’s an echo of the way Quentin Tarantino has picked up on the chattiness of Howard Hawks’ Westerns in the lengthy conversation-and-character scenes, which keep the smart lines coming even as the rescue party traverse impossible terrain or fight off mad killers. A mash-up of The Searchers and Cannibal Ferox, this is a pretty strong prairie stew.

It has a nice line in wry chatter and a pleasantly old-fashioned ‘lost posse’ plot with engaging, odd characters striving against the wilderness while swapping cynical frontier wisdom.
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