Wednesday, November 25, 2015

BONE TOMAHAWK Is the Badass Horror-Western You Never Knew You Needed


- Sometimes, there comes a movie that you never knew you needed, but my god, you can only raise your hands to the movie heavens and thank the lords of film that, somehow, it exists. BONE TOMAHAWK is the badass, Kurt Russell-starring cannibal Western that you didn't know you wanted but now must make an essential part of your 2015 movie-going diet, lest you miss out on a bone-crunching, positively kick-ass, gravitas-infused new cult classic.

What's so great about BONE TOMAHAWK ... well, a lot of things are great about it. But here are two things to start. One is that, if you're like me, and you grew up watching Kurt Russell kick ass in iconic fashion in films like Escape From NY, then holy hell - is it sweet to have The Man back doing what he does best. Even as fellow 80's action stars have continued to saturate our movie screens, Russell has kept largely quiet - emerging only for the occasional throwback role in films like Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, or for small, unworthy-of-an-icon supporting parts as in this summer's Furious 7. Well, here we go, kids. BONE TOMAHAWK has Russell front and center, playing the role a badass Old West sheriff, and sporting a 'stache that could make most grown men cower at the mere sight of it. But all semi-joking aside, Russell is legitimately great in this movie. He plays an affable guy - the kind of sheriff that any town would want - cool and collected in the face of danger, but willing to do anything for the well-being of his citizenry. And if you are the guy to wake the lion, so to speak - watch out. Russell gets some great moments here - some truly iconic lines and some truly memorable scenes of badassery. It's a nice reminder of just how great the dude can be when given a meaty role.

The other big thing about this film is that writer/director S. Craig Zahler doesn't just present it as a grindhouse-esque B-movie. Instead, the first two thirds of the film are essentially a classic Western, in the vein of The Searchers and other such movies. Zahler presents a story that doesn't truly even introduce it's more fantastical elements until late in the game. At first, we've got ourselves a fairly straightforward Western plot - some folks have been kidnapped from the town, and so the Sheriff organizes a search party to go track her down and bring her captors to justice. The searchers include Richard Jenkins as the Sheriff's doddering deputy, Patrick Wilson as an injured cowboy who happens to be the doting husband of one of the women who was taken, and Matthew Fox as a transient intellectual who decides to volunteer for the mission. In any case, much of the film is just classic Western stuff, elevated by this supremely talented cast of leads and the great banter and group dynamic between them. Jenkins in particular is a huge standout - unrecognizable, he absolutely slays as Russell's half-senile right-hand-man. Wilson is also excellent here - bringing the same sort of rugged but unassuming determination he's currently displaying on Fargo to this film. Zahler fills the movie with some stunning Old West panoramic imagery as well. This is a great-looking film.

And that's before the mutant cannibal monsters enter the picture. Without spoiling anything, the horror elements that had been lurking in the background for much of the movie eventually spill over into the foreground, and the tone of the movie shifts somewhat drastically. But it works incredibly well, because the film does such a great job of building up the characters and the stakes prior to the $%&# really hitting the fan. But when it does ... the movie becomes an incredibly entertaining pulp-horror actionfest. Things get brutal and shocking and downright insane. And Russell, Wilson, Fox, and Jenkins each get their big moments to shine. Kudos to Zahler for pulling it off as well as he does. It helps that the creature design for the cannibals is fantastic - they look downright menacing, yet it doesn't feel like *that* much of a stretch for these cave-dwelling creatures to have been lying in wait in some off-the-map corner of the still-uncharted West. 

BONE TOMAHAWK is that rare awesome movie that's a complete original -  I mean, when's the last time there was a horror-western, let alone one that was actually great? My only regret is that I did not see the film theatrically - luckily, though the movie was released only in a select handful of theaters, it came out day-and-date on digital and VOD platforms. Luckily, it can be watched by all with an internet connection. Luckily, movies like this are made at all.

My Grade: A-

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