Monday, February 8, 2016

Bone Tomahawk

As a child, and even to this day, I’d never really enjoyed western-themed films of the 50s or 60s, as they’d always seemed boring to me and I had never really seen what was the big deal about them.  I know John Wayne is “The Duke” whom everybody thought of as the epitome of the movie cowboy, even giving him that moniker in real life, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a movie in which he had starred.  It wasn’t until the decade of the 1980s that I’d take notice and a liking to that genre, when Young Guns was released in 1988.  Maybe it was because the film featured actors close to my age or maybe it was because they were actors I’d enjoyed in other films that brought familiarity to that western…I don’t know.  But what I do know is that Young Guns was the gateway film that led me to look into other westerns, whether from years before or new films being released at the time.

Now I’m not saying I’m now a bona fide western film enthusiast, but I’ve seen my fair share of them to honestly say I’ve given them a chance and that the genre is worth its salt.  I’ve now seen all of Clint Eastwood’s westerns and still have quite a few on my Netflix queue, so I’ll get there.

With that said, when a new western comes out, you can bet I’ll give it a chance, and when it’s a western mixed with a subgenre—say, like horror—I’m all over that.  So when I had heard that Kurt Russell was going to star in such a film—interestingly called Bone Tomahawk—I placed it in the queue, right away, receiving it yesterday, and watched it.

After a drifter named Purvis (David Arquette) shows up in the little burg of Bright Hope, then is subsequently arrested after being shot by the town’s lawman, Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell).  The town’s doctor, Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons), is called to the jail cell to tend to Purvis’s wound, being watched over by one of the sheriff’s deputies.  When Hunt, with his deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins), goes to investigate where they think the drifter buried some items they believe he’d stolen, Samantha, Purvis, and the deputy go missing.  Told by a local Native American, The Professor (Zahn McClarnon), that the two were abducted by cave-dwelling savages, the sheriff and Deputy Chicory get a posse together—including Samantha’s injured husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), and John Brooder (Matthew Fox), the local educated womanizer—to go look for the missing people and rescue them…but they have no idea what they’re in for.

The film starts a little violently, showing the crimes Purvis and his partner, Buddy (Sid
Haig), perpetrate as they slit the throats of some sleeping cowboys to steal their money and belongings.  But right away, we get a little taste of the horror side of this tale, showing us a mysterious figure killing buddy as Purvis is able to get away.  It’s a little unexpected and hooks you into the movie pretty quickly.  

We’re then introduced to Sheriff Franklin Hunt and his deputy, Chicory, seeing that they have a good respect for each other.  I was mildly surprised to see the chemistry between these two actors as they worked well in the film.  I’ll always watch a movie Kurt Russell stars in, so it was a no-brainer for me to dive into this flick.  Now in his twilight years, the man is still a “man’s man” and has that grizzled look about him which is perfect for someone playing a lawman in the old west.  I guess it helps that he’s known for playing Wyatt Earp in Tombstone some 20+ years ago, but Russell holds his own here. 

I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out for Richard Jenkins, seeing as he’s usually cast as an overlooked supporting actor or, lately, for comic relief in such films as Me, Myself and Irene or Stepbrothers.  Maybe it helps that he’s nearly unrecognizable with the scraggly beard and graying hair, but he was perfectly cast here as the loyal aging deputy.

Matthew Fox seemed to be channeling Val Kilmer’s role as Doc Holiday from Tombstone—minus the drunken antics—in this flick as John Brooder and turns out to be quite the bad-ass in this role.  One such scene has two men stumbling upon their camp, seemingly having no ill intent.  Kurt Russell’s character as the sheriff agrees to let the men forward so they can talk, but suddenly Fox’s character just shoots them to death without a second thought; his claim was that the men were sizing them up for others to ambush them later—he might’ve been right.  Fox is likable here, standing out in this role, and being that he’s acting alongside Kurt Russell, that’s high praise.

Patrick Wilson, as Arthur O’Dwyer, does a fine job as well, and I sort of feel bad for him because of the believable physicality he put into this role.  Wilson’s character is introduced in this story as having a previous injury he’s healing up from.  But when his character and others have to travel by horse, and then by foot, you can see he puts his all into it.  With the primitive crutch he uses to get around, he must’ve had some tiring takes to contend with throughout this shoot.  But his drive to keep on going to find his wife is convincing as his character never gives up.

The thing that surprised me about this film is how they steered away from your typical movie formula on who lives and who dies.  As the men near the land of the savages and attacks are eminent, you’ll probably start taking guesses on what character is going to survive and which ones will die.  The writer and director, S. Craig Zahler (who’s quite the newbie in this position, only working as cinematographer and other minor titles in the movie business), definitely turned the basic principles on its head as he went through this story.

Now, the cave-dwelling savages?  Even though they’re just actors in costume, not any type of creature per se, they’re presented frighteningly at first as we only get quick glimpses of them when they first attack.  The screeches that they use to communicate are unnerving as well and pretty interesting once you find out how they create those sounds.  Once the characters are up close with the savages, you get a very cringe-worthy scene that some may turn away from—the scene is quite violent, but is needed to show exactly what these beings are all about.

So what’s my final “bit” on Bone Tomahawk?

It’s a nice little western tale, but made better with the horror aspects added to it.  The characters are very likable and the story has very good character development as it moves along during the traveling scenes.  My only peeve is that we really don’t see too much of the landscape, which is something I enjoy in westerns—it usually gives you a
firm aspect of the time period—but you get enough here that you won’t have to suspend disbelief.  Some may feel a little anxious because there is sort of a slow burn to the film, but once we get into that third act, shit gets real.  You’ll notice a couple of cameos—Jamison Newlander (of The Lost Boys fame) plays Mayor Porter and Sean Young plays his wife, Mrs. Porter.  Overall, if you’re a western and/or horror movie fan, you’ll enjoy this film.

Well, that’s all I’ve got today…thanks for reading.