Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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If you ever wondered what “The Hills Have Eyes” would look like remade in to a cheap C grade Western, look no further than “Bone Tomahawk.” It’s hard to believe such a rank amateurish and awful film could attract a cast like Patrick Wilson, and Kurt Russell but here we are watching two genuinely excellent performers slumming it in a movie fashioned around sets that look as if they were stolen from an off Broadway period play. “Bone Tomahawk” fashions itself a horror western, but I’d be hard pressed to brand it horror. I’d be hard pressed to brand it a movie, to be honest.

It’s a slog to sit through from beginning to end, focusing on a slew of broad clichés, all of whom have to do battle with one dimensional villains that happen to be cannibal Native Americans. You’d assume a movie with such potential for chaos and mayhem would make good use of its setting, let alone the meaty cast it brings along with it, but S. Craig Zahler really doesn’t seem to have much to do with his premise. “Bone Tomahawk” goes on for at least twenty minutes of exposition and meaningless filler before we ever get to the actual meat and potatoes of the narrative. Just when Zahler begins to reach the momentum of the narrative and set events in to motion, he instead pads the run time even more, which keeps the pacing sluggish and tiresome.

At one point Patrick Wilson’s character even takes the time out to read a letter aloud to himself from beginning to end. There are tons of scenes of Russell’s sheriff camping out with his mob to help find a local nurse that was taken prisoner by the local clan of savages. Zahler has no sense of pacing, either filming scenes that go on too long, or are cut terribly to where it’s impossible to really get involved in the action. One scene where David Arquette’s character Buddy is interrogated by Russell’s character Sheriff Hunt is filmed in such a stale manner that all sense of tension is missing. Moments meant to invoke terror, such as the tribes popping out from the scenery to murder their prey are just absolutely flat and seem to have no intention other than to shock.

Director Zahler focuses more on brutality, than he does injecting genuine excitement and terror. Every cast member in “Bone Tomahawk” looks bored, including Russell who can play this type of role in his sleep and doesn’t really seem to be challenged too much by Zahler’s script. He’s your basic sheriff character pushed in to a more than ordinary circumstance we’d see in your run of the mill Western film. As for Matthew Fox, he at least seems to be having fun doing his best impression of Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday. “Bone Tomahawk” is just an awful film, failing to break new ground and seemingly content with being a dull and absolutely tedious Western with a mild horror bent.

  • Bill Reagan

    I disagree with your review wholeheartedly.
    I went into this movie thinking it was going to be a bloody Italian-style western along the same lines as Tombstone. The film unfolded slow and built the tension through characterization and story. And then WHAM! it turned into a horror film. I loved every step of the way. Every character was given the perfect amount of attention and detail. The story was bleak and harsh just like the setting. My only gripe is that it ended on a relatively high note leading the viewer to conclude that the problem has been resolved. I think it would have spoken volumes if there had been less gunshots heard over the horizon in the end. (Its hard not to spoil it, Sorry!)
    All the western genre tropes were utilized without exploitation, even down to the off-screen drunken “Doc Boone” character, and the smooth talking “Mr. Hatfield” played by Matthew Fox (Not the re-used Holiday/Val Kilmer charater). Re-watch The Searchers, John Ford would be proud of this film.

  • B Terrible Movies

    Wow, a C-Grade Western? Actors slumming it? At least you’ve seen “Tombstone”… pat yourself on the back. It’s true; film is subjective- but I think you may have missed this one. Fail…

  • Edwin Wirz

    I agree; AWFUL flick. Hate to waste more time commenting. Slow, tedious, painful. Loved the “cave” scenes; talk about cheesy. Right out of Dr. Who or something. Kurt was the only saving grace. A real waste of $3.99 rental.

  • Humpback

    There’s an old anecdote about writing–supposedly Anton Chekhov said “If you show a rifle hanging on the wall in act one, it should be used by act three.” This movie violated that rule, and that sums up the weaknesses of the script. Twice, characters refer to bringing dynamite on their trek, but there is never an explosion. Other similar setups in the film never pay off–that letter read aloud and packed for the trip; dropped guns are not picked up by stragglers; other cannibal tribe members mentioned, even seen, but without any role to play in the story. In short, Bone Tomahawk had potential, and a great cast, but ultimately it was a sloppy story waste.