The film tells the story of group of men, led by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) who set out into far reaches of the Wild West to rescue one member’s kidnapped wife. But the search isn't a straightforward one and the men soon find terrors awaiting them, as they unwittingly follow their cannibalistic captors into the caves.
Zahler's film starts as it means to go on: lethal, bloody and comic. In the arid bushland of the Wild West, a comically Coenesque duo of drifters are finishing off an ambush, hacking at the heads of a party they have just murdered. Scarpering at the sound of approaching horses, they stumble across an eerily deserted burial ground, littered with skulls, to find themselves face-to-face with a tribe of ruthless cannibals and... well, you can imagine what follows.
Yet whilst the film follows a number of typical 'horror' tropes – dithering fools wander to their deaths; the arrogant bad-guy gets his comeuppance – tonally, Bone Tomahawk achieves something quite unique. The script is light and dryly comic, the plot benefits from misdirection – whilst Bone Tomahawk doesn't choose to completely subvert its genre, it keeps its tongue well in its cheek.
Whilst the script is entertaining, wry and self-aware, it's in the indulgent levels of gore that Bone Tomahawk really comes into its own. Little here for the squeamish (even the most hardened reviewers at a preview screening were seen repeatedly wincing, heads pressed deep in hands), it's in its grisliest moments that Zahler's film achieves something unique. None of the lengthy, torturous violence that one might find in the likes of SAWs I,II and III, here acts of brutality occur so quickly and with such a gleeful flourish, it is as if Bone Tomahawk is inviting its viewers not to shrink, but to revel in the delivery of its horror. Audiences aren't tortured with jumpy suspense – we are merely shown (matter-of-factly, almost) how it is that a cannibal goes about capturing, restraining and – at one point – preparing his food.
Patrick Wilson is excellent as Arthur, the foolhardy husband stoically committed to rescuing his young wife. Kurt Russell is as watchable as ever as the no-nonsense town sheriff – who sees no limit in his line of duty. And Richard Jenkins delivers some of the film's best lines, as the overly chattery "Back-Up Deputy Sheriff", endearingly naïve and enthusiastic even at the jaws of hell.
Strong performances also come from David Arquette and a liltingly Western Lili Simmons. And whilst Bone Tomahawk could certainly benefit from weightier female roles (the only two women who appear in the film are essentially damsels in distress) this can almost be forgiven, thanks to the film's political sensitivity elsewhere. For Bone Tomahawk acknowledges its inherent problems – the impulse to compare this tribe of Troglodytes with the native 'Indians' is repeatedly checked. Whilst these moments feel at times like 'colonial politics for dummies', it is refreshing to see a cannibal horror and Western at least engaging with the flaws of its predecessors.
In short, then, very memorable – if difficult – watching, Bone Tomahawk manages the rare feat of being both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply scary without ever traipsing into the realms of "horror parody". Entertaining, gruesome and ultimately cathartic in a way that jumpier chillers simply aren't, for those who can stomach it, Bone Tomahawk is well worth a watch.
UK Release date 19 February.
|What||Bone Tomahawk film review "gloriously gruesome"|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
19 Feb 16 – 31 Mar 16, 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to book tickets for the London Film Festival|