Home » S Craig Zahler » 'Bone Tomahawk' (2015) directed by S. Craig Zahler [London Film Festival 2015]
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
'Bone Tomahawk' (2015) directed by S. Craig Zahler [London Film Festival 2015]
Wednesday, October 14, 2015 by londoncitynights
Allow me to sell you on a movie: Kurt Russell plays a hard-bitten old West Sheriff who must battle a tribe of mutant cannibal troglodytes to save his townsfolk. The title? Bone Tomahawk. Try saying that out loud, enunciate every lovely syllable, it's fun. BONE TOMAHAWK. With this set-up, lead actor and kickass title, writer/director S. Craig Zahler is sitting in front of an open goal and just needs to tap it in.
And he fluffs it.
Given that the main plot device is a tribe of hitherto unknown mutated cannibal cavemen, you might expect the film to be a zippy, Sam Raimi-esque horror. But aside from maybe 15 minutes of the climax, this is just a subpar Western that happens to feature mutant cannibals a bit.
Essentially a riff on The Searchers, the plot follows Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) as he tries to rescue damsel in distress Samantha (Lili Simmons) from the cannibal tribe. He's joined in this by; his deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), an older man who compulsively chatters; John Brooder (Matthew Fox), whose family were killed by Native Americans and has sworn vengeance on them; and Samantha's husband Arthur O'Dwyer (Patrick Fox), who's desperate to get his wife back, yet struggling with a broken leg.
This motley bunch set out to rescue the wife, trekking across the wilderness to where they believe the troglodytes have made their lair. And boy do they trek. The film is more than two hours long and the vast majority of that time is spent watching Russell and co miserably trek from campsite to campsite while one character moans about his dodgy leg. Eventually (finally) we get to the cannibal lair where things pick up a bit with some satisfyingly gory action, but it's too little too late.
Bone Tomahawk's most obvious flaw is that none of the characters are particularly interesting nor exceptionally played. Drawn straight from the Big Book of Western Stereotypes, they speak in dialogue so rote it feels as if you've heard it all before. Disappointingly, Kurt Russell pretty much sleepwalks through his bog-standard Sheriff role, though no-one else particularly excels. Best of a bad bunch is Richard Jenkins' deputy, who at least has a modicum of personality.
The nadir is Lili Simmons' Samantha. Leaving aside the fact that her character is a seriously dull damsel in distress, Simmons simply isn't plausible as a resident of the Old West. There's a casting factor known as 'period face'; whether someone, at a glance, looks like they could fit into a time period. Matthew Fox has it, Sean Young (in a brief role) has it and an impressively beardy Kurt Russell has it in spades. Simmons simply doesn't, though she's not helped by a weird decision to give her lustrously gorgeous blonde hair after being locked in a cage by cavemen for a week.
Even ignoring all that, the basic plot conceit is seriously dodgy. A fair maiden kidnapped by savage natives is a plot that you can't really play straight in 2015, something compounded by a focus on Samantha being threatened with rape: "Just imagine what they're doing to her! Right this second!" the characters breathlessly exclaim.
To some extent, the film appears to realise that it's in murky waters, inserting a scene early on where an unnamed Native American character assures us that though the villains may look like Indians, scalp their victims and generally fulfil the exact plot device of Indians in unreconstructed Westerns, don't be fooled - they're definitely not Indians.
On the long road trip there's a couple of tantalising hints of a late plot twist when our heroes shoot some defenceless Mexicans that approach them in the night and generally act in a cavalier manner about their past bloodshed. "Ah-ha!" you think. "Maybe they're the real monsters, not the cannibal savages!" Sadly even this mild complexity is beyond Bone Tomahawk - you can be assured that the cannibal savages are indeed the real monsters.
Sadly this is a wasted opportunity all round; squandering a decently pulpy horror set-up, Kurt Russell and a decent supporting cast and wasting a kickass title. Being both dull and offensive is a lethal combination. Bone Tomahawk is one to avoid.
Bone Tomahawk is released 11 December 2015.