‘The Hateful Eight’ is not the best western movie starring Kurt Russell released in 2015, that film would in fact be ‘Bone Tomahawk’.
‘Bone Tomahawk’ gives a strange, and chilling opening scene, somewhat reminiscent of the opening scene of Game of Thrones, as we follow a pair of cowboys who stumble into somewhere they really shouldn’t. We get a brief look at the main threat of the film, but then are quickly ushered elsewhere, eleven days later, as the film begins proper.
From this opening scene we’re given what some might consider a fairly formulaic western film, where a small town sheriff, played by Kurt Russell, has to gather together a team of men to go and rescue some kidnapped townsfolk. This standard type of set-up gets a horror shift towards the end when the kidnappers are found, a strange tribe of cannibalistic natives.
This merging of western and horror have been done before, and we’ve had cannibal westerns before, but rarely has it been done this well. What makes ‘Bone Tomahawk’ stand head and shoulders above many of these films though is that it’s very much built on character.
The majority of the film follows our band of cowboys travelling across the desert chasing after the taken townsfolk, and this gives us plenty of time to get to know them and see just how interesting they are, With most of the young and able bodied men off on a cattle drive when the call to arms goes out we’ve got a small band of heroes to follow, just four.
This small group means that each character gets their own moment to shine, they get to build up their own unique character. We get the town sheriff Franklin Hunt, played by Kurt Russell, his over the hill backup deputy Chicory, played by Richard Jenkins, the gentleman gunslinger John Brooder, played by Lost star Matthew Fox, and Arthur O’Dwyer, played by Patrick Wilson, husband to one of the kidnapped townsfolk struggling to keep up with a broken leg.
Writer/Director S. Craig Zahler is more than ready to give plenty of time to his main characters, to let them play off each other and build character through the way they interact with each other. Whilst they may begin as average western character tropes, by the time we reach the films third act they’ve become fully formed and fleshed out characters that we actually care about and want to see make it through to the end credits.
Unfortunately for our characters not all of them will make it out alive, and the third act becomes very tense, bloody and violent. This final act could have played out very dull, or even over the top in the hands of the wrong director, but instead the tension ramps up and turns the film from an interesting character story into a tense horror with the ability to cause discomfort more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The film is incredibly well crafted piece, that isn’t afraid to let scenes unfold slowly, to have tension build organically to breaking point. This is helped by beautiful, and at times spooky, cinematography and a minimalist, almost nonexistent, score.
The designs of the cannibal tribe are somehow something familiar, yet new and terrifying with some creepy and unique twists that make them stand out from most cannibal tribes. Coupled with some excellent practical effects and one of the most gruesome murder scenes I’ve seen in years make them a truly scary foe.
A film that is a good addition to both the western genre, with great characters and writing, and the horror genre, with some incredibly tense scenes with a very scary foe.
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