Skip to main content

You know, I know the world's supposed to be round, but I'm not so sure about this part.

Bone Tomahawk
(2015)

(SPOILERS) S Craig Zahler’s movie debut, coming in the wake of numerous sold but unmade screenplays, is a highly accomplished horror western, exhibiting the kind of slow, steady unfolding, in full knowledge of a worth-the-wait climax, also exhibited by the likes of Kevin Costner’s Open Range. The major difference being, Open Range doesn’t explode into a crimson fountain of limbs and entrails, while Bone Tomahawk wades in knee deep.


Not being a gore hound, I take no great glee in the sight of an unfortunate deputy’s scalping, having a block hammered into his mouth and then suffering the final indignity of being split down the middle, but I suspect the horror fiend in Zahler took unbridled relish in this dubious achievement. Elsewhere, there are numerous dismemberments and a cathartic decapitation, as Russell’s Sheriff Hunt gets a too-late opportunity for payback.


Perhaps most wince-inducing, however, in terms of the protracted stress and strain, is the arduous journey to the location where the town of Bright Hope’s abductees are held captive, during which Patrick Wilson’s O’Dwyer, recuperating from a fractured leg, further damages it with his every step after the posse’s horses are stolen.


To be fair to Zahler, he isn’t indiscriminate in his employment of viscera. Indeed, he’s so measured and meticulous in building up suspense that he scarcely needs to be. By the time we reach the unhallowed hallowed grounds of the cannibal troglodytes (apparently it’s okay to depict Native Americans as mindless savages, just as long as they’re barely recognisable mindless savages, more The Hills Have Eyes than Stagecoach) nerves are jangling uncontrollably in anticipation of the terror awaiting our motley heroes (and to be honest, I’m glad he didn’t opt for a realistic portrayal of how people would likely react to the deputy’s death, since none of the characters would ever have recovered their wits).


And they are very much motley. Russell’s Sheriff Franklin Hunt wears the familiar whiskers of Kurt in western mode (going back to Tombstone two decades ago), and it doesn’t need saying he doesn’t disappoint. Only that, with his current minor career resurgence, it would be nice if he doesn’t make a habit of dying in all his new defining roles. As it is, it’s his co-stars who rather steal the limelight, the odd line aside (“Well, you’re pretty angry for a guy named Buddy”).


There’s Wilson’s O’Dwyer, desperate to rescue his abducted wife (Lili Simmons, best known for Banshee), so much so that he foolishly heads off with a busted leg and spends three-quarters of the movie looking like a liability who will certainly do for their slim chances of staging a successful rescue. It’s one of Zahler’s great strengths as a writer that, in a fairly simple plot, he veers from the expected in character fates. Okay, I was expecting Russell to buy it, and Fox’s cocky sharpshooter Brooder was also unlikely to see the final frame, but the turnaround of O’Dwyer, resourceful and resolute, was still surprising, even when it dawned on me that’s where this was heading. That said, it’s astonishingly considerate of the troglodytes to give their cave a back way in, so he doesn’t have to hoist himself up a rock face.


Brooder: I’ve killed more Indians than anyone else here put together.
The Professor: Well, that’s an ugly boast.
Brooder: It isn’t a boast, but a fact.

Fox is terrific in a gift of a part, Brooder being parcelled out a procession of self-assured and pithy one-liners, even to the point where he’s looking death in the mouth (“I’m far too vain to ever live as a cripple”), and given an amusing exchange (as above) with the town’s knowledgeable Native American. And, while he maybe antagonistic and aloof, Brooder surely loves his horse.


Richard Jenkins as Chicory gives the talkative (and then some, particularly on the subject of flea circuses and reading in the bath) old-timer a touching moral code (“One of them was wearing a crucifix” he protests of the bandits shot down by Brooder; “Then Jesus should have helped him” comes the reply). There’s also good support from Simmons, and David Arquette as the throat-cutting, grave-desecrating outlaw who starts all this.


As for the troglodytes, they’re a fearsome bunch, possibly a little too acrobatic when it comes to being flattened by bullets, but with arrestingly outlandish throat adornments/implants that give them a unique (slightly Predator-esque) method of communication (part of O’Dwyer’s rehabilitation into a hero comes when he removes one and lures others to their doom with it).


Zahler has made nothing short of a first rate B-movie here, one he elevates with fine, memorable characterisations and a keen choice of cast. It will be interesting to see which way the entirely exploitation-titled Brawl in Cell Block 99 takes him. What makes Bone Tomahawk so arresting is that it takes western characters and throws them into a horror scenario; it may lack the subtext of a Deliverance or Southern Comfort, but it succeeds as a character piece long before it’s overwhelmed in splatter. Can he do the same for the prison genre?


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke (the answer is: Mad Max: Fury Road )? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

It’ll be like living in the top drawer of a glass box.

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) (SPOILERS) The first of a pair of TV movies John Carpenter directed in the 1970s, but Someone’s Watching Me! is more affiliated, in genre terms, to his breakout hit ( Halloween ) and reasonably successful writing job ( The Eyes of Laura Mars ) of the same year than the also-small-screen Elvis . Carpenter wrote a slew of gun-for-hire scripts during this period – some of which went on to see the twilight of day during the 1990s – so directing Someone’s Watching Me! was not a given. It’s well-enough made and has its moments of suspense, but you sorely miss a signature Carpenter theme – it was by Harry Sukman, his penultimate work, the final being Salem’s Lot – and it really does feel very TV movie-ish.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

By whom will this be rectified? Your ridiculously ineffectual assassins?

The X-Files 3.2: Paperclip Paperclip recovers ground after The Blessing Way stumbled slightly in its detour, and does so with some of the series’ most compelling dramatics so far. As well as more of Albert performing prayer rituals for the sick (perhaps we could spend some time with the poor guy over breakfast, or going to the movies? No, all he’s allowed is stock Native American mysticism).

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008) (SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanley was well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley , our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“ too syrupy ”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog.  Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has c

Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun.

The Sound of Music (1965) (SPOILERS) One of the most successful movies ever made – and the most successful musical – The Sound of Music has earned probably quite enough unfiltered adulation over the years to drown out the dissenting voices, those that denounce it as an inveterately saccharine, hollow confection warranting no truck. It’s certainly true that there are impossibly nice and wholesome elements here, from Julie Andrews’ career-dooming stereotype governess to the seven sonorous children more than willing to dress up in old curtains and join her gallivanting troupe. Whether the consequence is something insidious in its infectious spirit is debatable, but I’ll admit that it manages to ensnare me. I don’t think I’d seen the movie in its entirety since I was a kid, and maybe that formativeness is a key brainwashing facet of its appeal, but it retains its essential lustre just the same.