Bone Tomahawk ★★★

A horror-western that seems more interested in being a western than a horror movie. For the most part, 'Bone Tomahawk' is a slow burn character study exploring four very different men on a rescue mission during the frontier days of the old west. It's a very dry and matter-of-fact film, featuring authentic-sounding dialogue traded between manly men who busy themselves being pre-industrial era alphas.

Kurt "King of Cult" Russell leads the wolf-pack and recalls his performance as Wyatt Earp from 'Tombstone' playing an honorable small town sheriff while the great Richard Jenkins plays his dependable, over-the-hill deputy. Both give deeply believable performances. They are joined by Matthew Fox as an educated gentleman of leisure and Patrick Wilson as the desperate husband searching for his missing wife. Fox and Wilson give good value but are somewhat eclipsed by the shadow of their more seasoned co-stars. That said, this is an ensemble piece and everyone acquits themselves well. There is not a lot of room for any memorable female portrayals however, but this is an intentionally masculine western that plays with mythic male archetypes from the genre in an interesting way.

I know there are people that think this is some kind of modern masterpiece but there really isn't anything that moves the earth here. It seems writer/director S. Craig Zahler has combined a clear love of the film 'Unforgiven' with the horror exploitation movies of the 1970s and it certainly is an interesting mash-up, but it takes itself just a tad too seriously considering how silly it all ends up becoming. And it's way too long; a sin Zahler is guilty of committing with all of his movies. As a result, the film feels unnecessarily self-important. After all, we are talking about cowboys vs cannibals here. So this isn't in the same league as the films it seeks to emulate. Although there is one incredibly gruesome and disturbing scene of violence towards the end that gives the film a memorable and queasy edge, which will help to elevate its cult reputation in the years to come I'm sure.

If you're looking for an authentic-feeling western then this is certainly a worthy example of such a beast. There is plenty of dust and blood to choke on here. But if you're looking for something more entertaining from the relatively sparse western-horror subgenre then I suggest you seek out films with more audacity such as 'From Dusk 'Till Dawn', 'Ravenous' or 'Near Dark'.

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