Bone Tomahawk (2015) Review: Cowboys & Cannibals
“May the Lord have mercy and grant you a swift death.”
Synopsis: Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.
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Ludwig von Stroodle:
To give yourself the best chance of enjoying Bone Tomahawk, you should have some idea of what you’re in for. This isn’t a typical horror movie; it’s more of a horror-adjacent Western. It’s a pretty simple story; a small group of cowboys (led by Kurt Russell‘s magnificent mutton chops) trek through the desert to save a damsel in distress. The horror element presents itself in the form of the cave dwelling cannibals who have abducted the woman, and the fact that the camera never cuts away from violence. This movie is titled “Bone Tomahawk” for a reason, and it is not for the squeamish. This isn’t the kind of movie where the audience cheers as the killer turns his victims into geysers of blood: the violence here is sudden, jarring, and graphic enough to make even veteran gore lovers feel a bit uneasy.
Like many Westerns, it’s long and the pace is on the slow side. It’s kind of like The Lord of the Rings in that most of the story is just some people walking, but there’s a surprising amount of character development filling the journey. One of the heroes has a broken leg, and his trudge through the desert is absolutely grueling. You can’t help but imagine yourself in his place. (I was wincing with every step he took.)
As I said, most of the movie passes before they ever reach the cave. All the earlier stuff is great, but as soon as the cave comes into view, the tension goes through the roof and the movie reaches a whole new level. Everything about the cannibals is fucking awesome. They communicate with inhuman noises thanks to surgical modifications to their throats, they carry tomahawks made from the jaws of large animals, and they’re fucking brutal. Even if you’re not a fan of the Western genre and like things a bit faster paced, you might still find it worth it to watch this movie just for the last half hour.
Ludwig von Stroodle’s Rating: B+
Despite some horror elements, Bone Tomahawk is at heart a Western. As with nearly all Westerns, it’s aggressively male-oriented: only one female character gets more than a few seconds of screen time, and she’s more plot point than person. Meanwhile, the men of the movie (Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins) follow the usual genre tropes of vengeance and violence and eventually come up against a cannibalistic tribe of “troglodytes.”
Though the quality of the piece was good, Bone Tomahawk is at least half an hour longer than it needs to be. Generally, I feel that a movie requires a good reason for exceeding two hours – the story should demand it, rather than having to stretch to encompass it. And with 90% of Bone Tomahawk involving endless traipsing through the desert, there’s no real reason for the length other than the director stroking himself.
Most of the horror (appropriately gross and upsetting horror) comes in the last ten minutes of the movie, meaning you’d better like Westerns before picking this one up. With decent camerawork and actors, Bone Tomahawk isn’t a bad example of the modern genre, but it will be a hard sell to those expecting a scary movie. I was fairly annoyed by the film, but if you like Westerns, you’ll probably find it worth a watch at least once.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: B-
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