Bone Tomahawk (18)

S. Craig Zahler's brutal horror-western creeps onto our screens - Simon Ramshaw went to see if it was as terrifying as its reputation suggests.

7th March 2016

can count the number of films that send me into a state of quaking existential dread on one hand. Now, it looks like I’m going to have to go onto the second hand, because Bone Tomahawk has finally found its way to UK shores and (forgive the foreshadowing pun) ripped a new one in both the western and horror genre.

The set-up of S. Craig Zahler’s debut (!) film is deceptively simple. A Native American tribe kidnap three people from the sleepy town of Bright Hope, including the town’s forthright female doctor (an underused Lili Simmons). It’s up to a mismatched posse consisting of Kurt Russell’s level-headed sheriff, Richard Jenkins’ naïve deputy, Matthew Fox’s gentleman gunslinger and Patrick Wilson’s hobbling cripple to get them back.

"i may have to add bone tomahawk to the list of films that send me into quaking existential dread"

A procedural western first and foremost, Zahler knows and loves his characters with sincerity and lack of pretention. That’s a hell of a refreshing achievement when you look at 2015’s other big westerns; while The Hateful Eight crammed in political commentary with exploding heads, and while The Revenant might be the most self-serious movie ever created, it’s good to see a director who keeps things simple without any grandiose delusions.

It takes a while for Zahler to shift the film’s gears to ‘nerve-shattering horror’, but he does it with such ruthless efficiency that you’d be forgiven for leaving the cinema because of the intense stress and extreme barbarism. But this is the real selling-point of Bone Tomahawk, a film which proves to be one of the most effective genre-benders of recent memory.

Bolstered by a career-best performance from Matthew Fox and the presence of the ever-likeable Richard Jenkins, I find it hard to imagine a film that suits my tastes more than this. It won’t be for everyone, and many will be bored by the slow pace, but for a chilling portrait of the primal side of human nature, it’s unbeatable.

Rating: 10/10

More like this: The Hateful Eight (2016)

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