31 Days of Horror 2018, Day 1: Bone Tomahawk [2015]

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The impact of a certain infamous scene in this film may was muted by seeing a similar scene in another film. Its realism freaked me out so much that I couldn’t watch it with both eyes fully open. But it’s still going to haunt me enough that I’m going to fall asleep watching Community.

S. Craig Zahler‘s Bone Tomahawk is a Western in which the big guys with the big guns don’t necessarily have the upper hand. Its antagonists, a cave-dwelling tribe of cannibals so out of time that they don’t even have a language, are as terrifying as they are alien, with ghostly, white powdered body make-up and eerie whistles embedded in their windpipes. And, of course, the casual and sickening violence [see if you can stomach what they do to their pregnant women].

Through a named Native American character with just one scene, the film is quick to state that they are NOT Native Americans (er…). But, similar to their movie tropes, you mess with their sacred land, you get fucked. So they’re basically Native Americans.

And that’s the central plot: a motley crew of a sheriff (Kurt Russell), his deputy (Richard Wilkins), a cowboy (Patrick Wilson) and a gunslinger (Matthew Fox) hunt for three townspeople who have been mysteriously kidnapped after an equally mysterious murder.

90 minutes of middling character development later, the film picks up speed, but it’s a slow burn if ever there was one. The spates of violence and gore are brutal, with no flashy cuts or doom-laden score – just unfiltered, voyeuristic shots of each gruesome act.

Tight performances from the quartet elevate this beyond its cheap indoor sets and minimal plot. Russell just breathes old-timey sheriff, and Wilson makes for the perfect straight man.

The only low points were snail editing and criminal cinematography that did not take advantage of the film’s wild west setting – both explained, possibly, by the film’s tiny $1.5 million budget, a consequence of Zahler’s uncompromising writing and directing style. Since this, Zahler’s already moved onto bigger and better things, with the apparently somehow even more brutal Brawl in Cell Block 99.

Ultimately, the film is an odd blend – two-thirds western, one-third B-movie horror. I suspect its difficulty in finding a big enough audience kept it from a theatrical release (or rating), but I’d like to see this gang do more horror.

Score: 🎃🎃🎃

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