Limited theatrical release in October; now available on video-on-demand
Between its "horror western" billing and barely detectable presence at the box office, Bone Tomahawk has "cult film" written all over it and that's a shame because it certainly deserves a wider audience. The 10 or so people I've asked about Bone Tomahawk had never heard of it and that lack of awareness, due to little or no promotion, is an unfortunate by-product of the film's independent nature (it cost less than $2 million to make). Kurt Russell, the film's star, turns in a first-rate performance as Frank Hunt, the sheriff of a frontier town in the American West in the 1800's. Russell hasn't acted much since starring in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof in 2007, due to a hip injury and choosing to spend more time on his growing wine business and it's nice to see him back in 2015 with some high profile and meaty roles (this summer's Furious 7 and Tarantino's about-to-be-released The Hateful Eight). Here, he's surrounded by a talented cast that includes Patrick Wilson (Watchmen and the current season of TV's Fargo), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor and TV's Six Feet Under), and Matthew Fox (TV's Lost), with additional support from David Arquette, Lili Simmons, and a "where the hell has she been for the past 20 years?" Sean Young, who quickly disappears back into the showbiz ether after two minutes of screen time.
First-time director S. Craig Zahler also wrote the character-driven screenplay, which Russell called "the best Western I've read since Tombstone". I was rather surprised to learn that 1993's Tombstone was the last western Russell had appeared in, considering how memorable he was in it as Wyatt Earp and how comfortable he seems in the genre (apparently he's making up for lost time - The Hateful Eight is also a Western). The gruff Hunt, sporting a lite version of the full-on Yosemite Sam-style facial hair Russell displays in Tarantino's upcoming film, heads up a four-man posse who represent the only hope for some locals kidnapped by a tribe of cannibalistic cave-dwellers. Also included in the foursome are Jenkins' bumbling deputy (the film's go-to source for comic relief), Fox's dandyish gunslinger, and Wilson as the broken-legged distraught husband of one of the kidnapped townsfolk. The physical limitations of Wilson's character impede the urgent nature of the group's quest, who need to make a five day journey in three days. That conveniently helps to extend the time available for the interplay between the four radically different characters and it's those lively exchanges that are Bone Tomahawk's core strength. Viewers looking for extended action sequences or buckets of blood will be sorely disappointed - this is a slowly paced and talk-heavy film. That being said, Bone Tomahawk does contain some occasionally brutal visuals; one particularly disturbing scene is likely to stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling.
One of the few faults I can find with Bone Tomahawk is that it does feel a tad overstretched at 132 minutes - 110 to 120 minutes would have been more than sufficient to tell the story. Otherwise, Zahler impresses mightily in a directorial debut that features excellent casting, sharp dialogue, and a beautiful look that shows no signs of the film's minuscule budget.