Cowboys versus cannibals in the Old West, with Kurt Russell rocking the best beard since his majestic facial hair work in The Thing. A cross between The Searchers and The Hills Have Eyes, S. Craig Zahler's ambitious genre bender is Western, black comedy and gory horror movie, all at once and entirely successfully.
When members of his community (plus some horses) are kidnapped by a tribe of vicious cave-dwelling cannibals, tough Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Russell) assembles a small posse to give chase. There's dim-witted backup deputy Chicory (the ever-reliable Richard Jenkins), dandy poser and braggart John Brooder (Matthew Fox, giving good 'Jackface') and cowboy Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Wilson), nursing a grievously injured leg. That's a strong cast, and Bone Tomahawk's strongest suit is the interplay between the men, bickering, bonding and banter-ing (sorry) as they go. Never mind the cannibals, it's truly engaging well before the horror elements properly kick in.
That's not even counting the cameos from David Arquette (strengthening the Ravenous vibes it already gives off) and Sid Haig, setting the tone early as they stumble across a cannibal burial ground. At 132 minutes, Bone Tomahawk is a hefty commitment, but that time spent with its characters does mean that we come to deeply care about the men and genuinely worry for their well-being once cannibal territory is entered. No punches are pulled in depicting the man-eaters' grisly atrocities (think Predator meets the creatures of The Descent) packing in the most brutal kill sequence we've seen in years. It recalls The Green Inferno, only far more effective than that, thanks to its placement in a film that is vastly superior to the silly hot garbage that is The Green Inferno.
Special recognition must go to Richard Jenkins, quietly stealing the show as the town idiot with a heart of gold and a surprising level of competence when necessary – his interactions with Fox's Brooder are a particular joy, with the latter giving the best performance of his career (his ridiculous turn in Alex Cross not withstanding). It's a close call picking out favourites though, in a film as tightly cast and acted as this.
Slight niggles resound during the finale, when gunshots can be heard from either miles away or not at all, depending on whether or not the story requires a surprise entrance for one of its characters. The lack of budget and/or refusal to play up its B-movie roots all the way also means that there's not as much bombast to the finale as one might like – it's gory, violent and action-packed, but there's a sense that it could have done more and gone even further. That's just greed talking though – there's thankfully, already plenty of Bone Tomahawk to go around. Yeehaw.
BONE TOMAHAWK / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & WRITER: S. CRAIG ZAHLER / STARRING: KURT RUSSELL, RICHARD JENKINS, PATRICK WILSON, LILLI SIMMONS, MATTHEW FOX / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 19TH