What Should I Watch?: ‘Bone Tomahawk’ (2015)

Image via Transmission Films
Image via Caliber Media Company

It’s quite rare to come across a film that blends two such distinctly different genres (Western and Horror) together. It’s even more rare to find a movie that works with both genres so effectively.

Bone Tomahawk is an independent Western-Horror film that had a very limited release through the US late last year. In Australia the release was even more limited, with a purchase of the Blu-Ray/DVD providing the only viewing option. It’s unfortunate, as this is a highly underrated and even unheard of film that yells for attention with its intriguing and innovative presentation.

The film depicts the journey of four men in the Wild West, attempting to save people who have been taken hostage by cannibalistic natives.

The four: Sheriff Franklin Hunt (played brilliantly by Kurt Russell, reminiscent of his role in Tombstone), Hunt’s Deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins, who also puts in a stellar performance), gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox, in a very different type of role for the actor) and Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), a man carrying persistence and strength to save his wife from these savages.

The film was made with an astonishingly low budget of $US1.2 million. Nothing about the film looked “low budget” or false, in fact, it’s utterly convincing and very confronting.

Image via Transmission Films
Image via Caliber Media Company

Bone Tomahawk is the directorial debut of S. Craig Zahler, who has done a fantastic job, with highlights including strong performances, an atmospheric setting and superb cinematography by Benji Bakshi. Furthermore, Zahler’s script is written with a tangible sense of authenticity; in one scene, for example, Jenkins discusses ‘manifest destiny,’ a term coined during the latter stages of the 19th century.

The film unravels like a true Western – slow, intriguing, visually stunning and captivating. It then flips the table completely and swiftly morphs into dark horror – confronting, gruesome, violent, gluing you to your seat. In a rare circumstance, this sudden flip into a different genre actually works to the film’s benefit. Seeing as Bone Tomahawk effectively fleshes its lead characters right from the start, you now cling onto the hope for their survival in a nightmarish and engrossing final act.

If there is a minor issue, it would be the film’s somewhat slow and occasionally meandering first two acts. A few scenes could’ve been left on the cutting room floor, but this by no means tarnishes the experience or enjoyment.

Bone Tomahawk has added more to the occasionally struggling Western genre. It provides something fresh and innovative, an original mesh of two well-explored themes. If you can stand violence and you’re a fan of westerns and/or horror – or just good films in general – then Bone Tomahawk is definitely worth a watch.