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    Bone Tomahawk (2015): Movie Review

    "An effective genre mash-up of Old Westerners and gory cannibals.” 

    Kurt Russell leads a quartet of Westerners on a suicide mission to rescue a kidnapped woman in S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk. In this Old-Western-meets-horror film, an unlikely ragtag squad of a worn-out sheriff and his old-timer deputy, a determined cripple and a dashing gunslinger embark on a tricky journey that will prove the kind of men they are.

    The film opens with a casual throat-slitting by two wrangling outlaws, Buddy (Sid Haig) and Purvis (David Arquette). The duo soon stumbles upon a burial ground of unknown indigenous tribe. Immediately, they are attacked and only Purvis survived but is fatally wounded.

    Eleven days later, Purvis finds himself in the sleepy and scanty town of Bright Hope. However, an encounter in a bar puts Purvis behind bars. His unlucky streak is not yet over as his original foes follow him around. Overnight, he is kidnapped along with jail guard Nick (Evan Jonigkeit) and doctor Samantha O'Dwyer (Lili Simmons) who is in-charge of treating him. Town sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) springs into action and sets off to rescue them with his hastily-founded team which includes his butterfingered backup deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), dapper traveller and Indian-hunter Brooder (Matthew Fox), and Samantha’s bronco-buster husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) who is still suffering from a broken leg. They are all too enthusiastic at the beginning but the expedition soon becomes more challenging than they thought, especially when they are forced to confront each other and the unfamiliar enemies up ahead.

    After the critically-acclaimed Slow West, it is exciting to watch another film that revives the Old West vibe. But Bone Tomahawk is more than that as it amazingly and successfully plots a genre twist in its last hour. Initially, the film is slowly paced, matching its overall drowsy atmosphere. It is quite self-indulgent, demanding patience and attention from the audience. It takes so long to set up and the excitement only kicks in when the foursome begins their mission. It is still sluggish but the movie has already convinced us that it will be an interesting and riveting journey ahead.

    Indeed, the quartet’s progress is measured and deliberate that we are given more than ample time to observe them and bask in their comically sour yet finely selfless chemistry. Their journey together is the film’s main body and each of the characters is given space and time to develop. They incessantly bark and snipe at each other but they always end up supporting one other in a kind of lukewarm brotherhood. Such rapport is achieved by the amusingly snappy or deliciously witty dialogues. They just sound natural and pleasing, especially when spoken in that Old West—style drawl.

    The movie takes on an uneasy turn during the second half when it ventures into the horror category. It is jarring but anyone can lightly ease back to comfort. Here, the unnamed ethnic group is revealed and its people are actually cannibals called “troglodytes.” Covered in white powder and with skin pierced with animal tusks, they delight in adorning their caves with human bones. The film becomes gut-wrenching and terrifying here, especially with their offering salvo of scalping a man alive and splitting him into halves through his crotch. Genre mash-ups are not effective in most features but the movie does it remarkably and impressively.

    The four lead actors are impeccably persuasive and rousing. Russell is always a strong force and he uses it once again to draw attention and project the necessary confidence and gusto of a daring sheriff. Jenkins is a fitting comic relief everytime his Chicory cracks bad jokes or desperately stands up for a job. Fox channels an air of pride and arrogance as his Brooder prances around in creamy suit, recounting his many adventures against the Indians. Wilson, forever good- and innocent-looking, is convincing as a husband determined to find his wife despite all odds.

    Everything in Bone Tomahawk works. Its photography and design elements are outstanding, as well as the acting and execution. Script is tight and clever with its smart dialogues and efficient genre twist. The first half may be too lethargic and casual but the final act will certainly hype up anyone’s emotions. 

    Production company: Caliber Media Company 
    Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, Lili Simmons, Evan Jonigkeit, Kathryn Morris, Sid Haig, David Arquette, Fred Melamed, Sean Young, Michael Pare, Geno Segers 
    Director-screenwriter: S. Craig Zahler 
    Producers: Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier 
    Executive producers: Scott Fort, David Gilbery, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Jon D. Wagner 
    Director of photography: Benji Bakshi 
    Production designer: Fredy Waff 
    Costume designer: Chantal Filson 
    Editors: Greg D'Auria, Fred Raskin 
    Music: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler


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