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Bone Tomahawk - DVD Review

Bone Tomahawk

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CULT status would almost certainly seem to beckon for S Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, a hugely enjoyable Western-horror that amuses, excites and disgusts in equal measure.

To describe the film, viewers may reference everything from John Ford’s The Searchers to classic X-Files episode Home, with a little Tarantino-style character study and word-play thrown in.

Yet despite embodying all of those elements, Zahler’s film retains an identity that is very definitely its own. Quite simply, it’s unlike anything you’re likely to see in a while – and all the better for it.

Kurt Russell (sporting the same look he displayed in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight) heads a fine ensemble cast as a sheriff in the [very] Wild West who gathers a posse to rescue local doctor Samantha (Lili Simmons) when she is abducted by a tribe known as the Troglodytes.

Hence, four men ride out to get her back: the sheriff, Samantha’s already injured husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson), an elderly deputy called Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and foppish, vengeful gunslinger and Indian killer Brooder (Matthew Fox).

Yet what lies in wait is far more dangerous than a bog-standard Indian reservation with a grudge against the white man. Rather, the Troglodytes are mutant flesh-eaters with ferocious strength, piercing screams and little or no humanity (even their women are treated poorly, merely as blind baby carriers).

And the path to their hideout is also frought with peril, given that the frontier is home to various murderers and thieves.

Zahler’s film is notable for the way in which it takes four generally amiable men and places them on a journey into the midst of hell.

Early on, however, it’s very much a character-driven ensemble, as each member of the posse is given a chance to build a person worth rooting for. Wilson, as ever, is resolute and the embodiment of human decency (channelling the same kind of persona he displayed to such winning effect in Fargo: Season 2), while Russell is the steadfast sheriff who takes the responsibility that comes with his job seriously – despite having a wife at home who would rather not see him go.

Jenkins, meanwhile, is a lovable old rogue whose penchant for comical observations and even more absurd story-telling lends the film such much-needed humour, while Fox is suitably enigmatic as the one man among them who may know how to handle himself in a tough spot.

There’s friction and camaraderie aplenty as the foursome make their way to hell, as well as an ever-mounting sense of dread as their situation worsens and the odds of their success shorten. Yet while certainly leisurely at times, Zahler’s film is never less than absorbing thanks to the quality of the actors at work.

The final third, on the other hand, is a jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching massacre that takes the film into heart-stopping territory. The brutality on show is quite often gasp-inducing, yet it’s accompanied by a great deal of emotion as favourite characters are put through the wringer.

Zahler, for his part, doesn’t short-change the audience or the situation, adhering to both Western and horror genre convention while still managing to find ways of surprising at every turn. It means that audiences are taken on quite a ride – and one that they won’t forget in a hurry.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 132mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 13, 2016