Bone Tomahawk review: A witty and terrifying horror-western
Film review: Bone Tomahawk

Matthew Turner delivers his verdict on horror-western Bone Tomahawk, starring Kurt Russell and a whole bunch of nasty cave dwellers


Synopsis: Kurt Russell leads this horror-western about four men who ride out to rescue a woman after she’s kidnapped by a vicious tribe of “troglodytes”.

Director: S. Craig Zahler
Starring: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons
Genre: Western / Horror
Release date: Feb 19, 2016
Cert: 18
Country: USA
Running time: 132 mins

Imagine a world where a bewhiskered Kurt Russell had a new Western out every month. Wouldn’t that be glorious?

This debut feature from author-turned-director S. Craig Zahler allows you to briefly indulge that fantasy, since it will be playing in cinemas alongside Russell’s other current Western, The Hateful Eight.

However, Bone Tomahawk comes with a sight more gore and violence than you’d expect with a traditional Western, and this engaging and enjoyable genre hybrid marks out writer-director Zahler as a definite talent to watch.

“Arthur refuses to accept that his broken leg might be a hindrance”

Looking indistinguishable from his character in The Hateful Eight, Russell stars as Sheriff Hunt, who’s called into action when the wife (Banshee’s Lili Simmons) of his friend Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) is kidnapped by a tribe of vicious “troglodytes” (a local Native American pointedly notes that these fearsome warriors are emphatically not what westerners would call Indians).

Hunt quickly gives chase, assembling a posse that includes garrulous deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), dashing gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox) and doggedly determined Arthur, who refuses to accept that his broken leg might be a hindrance to the rescue operation.

Bone Tomahawk movie promotional pic

The cast are exceptional, establishing a bickering rapport that’s both engaging and amusing as they make their achingly slow progress through the hostile territory.

Russell is superb as the grizzled authority figure who doesn’t realise just how out of his depth he is, while Fox delivers perhaps his best screen performance to date as the arrogant, fancily-dressed gun-for-hire, and Jenkins displays expert comic timing as the aging eager-to-impress deputy – his monologue about flea circuses is just one of the witty script’s dialogue-based highlights.

“A spectacular, genuinely terrifying pay-off”

Zahler’s control of the material is extremely impressive, particularly in the consistently witty character interaction and the slow, deliberate pacing (at one point we’re literally watching someone crawl through the desert), which builds to a spectacular, genuinely terrifying pay-off that it would be churlish to spoil here.

Suffice it to say that Zahler (himself a pulp Western novelist, which explains his way with an authentically salty turn-of-phrase) handles the switch in genres brilliantly and the effect is shocking and visceral in impact, like a tomahawk to the face.

In addition, the film looks utterly gorgeous throughout, courtesy of Benji Bakshi sun-drenched cinematography and some top notch production design and location work, topped off by a suitably atmospheric score from evidently multi-talented Zahler and co-composer Jeff Herriott.

Worth seeing?

Witty, beautifully shot and genuinely terrifying, this is an extremely impressive and thoroughly enjoyable western-slash-horror whose future cult movie status seems assured.