DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
This has got to be one of the most impressive debut films in recent years.
It's easy to dismiss this film as a horror western drenched in all the tropes that go along with that. Had this been a film that's sole intention would be to shock or to relish in its cowboy roots (or boots) then it would be a fine film. Not special, just good.
But this is so much more than that.
Let's start with the ridiculously brilliant dialogue. Zahler proves he's not only a great director but a gifted scribe as well. The authenticity of the idiomatic choices he makes are spot on, imbuing his film with a sense of realism that accompanies the already absurd attention to detail beautifully.
Then there is the simplicity of the story. I love the fact that Bone Tomahawk's plot can be summarised in two sentences that cover the load. And I love the fact that it works. It has a lengthy running time but not a second is wasted. Every choice, every action is deliberate and aids the momentum of the narrative.
But the greatest strength lies in the characters. They are the perfect archetypes that appeal to the Everyman in all of us. The dependable Sherrif (an excellent Russell), the charming rogue (a very surprising Fox), the fierce frontier woman (an outstanding but underused Simmons), the devoted hapless hero ( a charismatic Wilson) and the dependable deputy (an absolutely show stopping, scene stealing performance by the hilarious and endearing Jenkins). It is because of these characters that we become invested in their plight.
And what a plight it is. Because Zahler takes his time, giving us snippets of an imposing dread that is terrifying, we fully realise the horror our heroes are walking into. I sincerely felt afraid for these characters. And when Zahler decides to stop pulling his punches in the final act it turns into something truly disturbing with just a single, drawn out scene.
Zahler seems to understand something many filmmakers have forgotten. When you want to draw out any kind of emotive response from your audience you need something worth caring about. And you often achieve that by keeping it simple and showing the same dedication to your material you expect from your audience.
Bone Tomahawk is simply superb and superbly simple.