Don’t eat lunch before this, came the warning from the distributor’s PR. She was right. Bone Tomahawk **** is gory, hard-core stuff, burrowing into the cinematic flesh where Western meets Cannibal Slasher movie. Ah yes, that well-known genre. John Ford – it’ll eat your heart out
Actually, such freshness, is what makes the movie work. It’s got its classic Western status all sorted, with the sparsely-populated frontier town of Bright Hope. There’s sheriff (Kurt Russell, who looks like he shot this during that intermission bit in The Hateful Eight), doctor Patrick Wilson, deputy drunkard Richard Jenkins (channelling the great Walter Brennan, I’m sure), a pianist at The Learned Goat saloon and a barman who asks “What’s your predilection?”, as well as a stable boy and a dandy gunslinger (Matthew Fox).
Their world is shattered when the doctor’s pretty wife (Lili Simmons, very good) is abducted one night. In true Searchers style, a posse sets out to get her back, after a local Indian has informed them that the clues left behind – an arrow – points to the fearsome tribe of cave dwellers called the Troglodytes.
There’s a nice vein of dark humour running through this script. Good jokes and oddities abound in conversations about soup and in the sheriff with a fondness for shooting people in the foot.
But when the posse sets out, it takes on another aspect, and builds to some proper gore as they realised the full horror of the enemy they face, a giant breed of killer equipped with the titular weapons, all made out of human bone, and sharp as hell’s teeth.
I’m not sure what the post-colonial rights and wrongs of this one are, ultimately. Maybe we should be rooting for the Indians, but the brutal ferocity of the foe makes that hard.
There’s something of Tarantino here, of course, but also something compellingly original and smart, and there’s a great speech from the fetching Ms Simmons I’ll remember for a long time, as she yells at her hapless rescuers: “This is why frontier life is so hard – not because of the Indians, not because of the elements, but because of the idiots.” I’m on her side.