Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bone Tomahawk

The Western horror film (or Horror Western) subgenre is a Boot Hill populated enough that you can probably think of a few, but neglected enough that very few of them are particularly good. Bone Tomahawk (now on streaming services) sits comfortably within that small group--and probably among the best of that company.

Briefly, its apparently sometime in the 1890s (though it looks more 1870s-80s) two bushwhacker thieves (Sid Haig at his most Denver Pyle and David Arquette pretty much David Arquette) accidentally enter a secluded canyon where a lot of human bone decoration should tell them they are in a place they shouldn't be.

Eleven days later, Arquette is mark as suspicious by the constabulary of the town of Bright Hope. Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) puts a bullet in his leg to keep him from escaping. The Samantha O'Dwyer (Lili Simmons) either a doctor or a nurse, I'm not sure, is summoned to provide medical assistance, leaving her broken-legged cowboy husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) convalescing at home.

That night after some strange sounds and the slaughter of the man tending the stables, a prisoner, a deputy, and Mrs. O'Dwyer are missing and presumed kidnapped by Indians. Or not Indians, as a locale Native American informs them; a degenerate, subhuman, cannibal tribe called "troglodytes."

Stalwart Sheriff, hobbled cowboy and worried husband, Walter Brennan-esque "back up" deputy (Richard Jenkins) and dandified former Indian fighter (Matthew Fox) set out to find their townsfolk and bring them home, wholly unprepared for the horrors they will encounter.

People have likened Bone Tomahawk to The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes, but it lacks the scope and drama of the former and the visceralness of the latter. All the actors are competent and their characters well-realized and the dialogue is a bit of Tarantino, a bit of Deadwood, and generally good. The only problem is for its running time, the characters aren't given a whole lot interesting to do or talk about. The journey to the Valley of the Hungry Men doesn't really build tension like it could have, and the horror of the troglodytes isn't developed in the same way it was done in a film like The Hills Have Eyes or The Descent. There is violence, certainly, and a bit of gory, but it didn't feel like there was as much of either as the setup called for.

Those criticisms aside, it's a competent film well worth seeing. The nature and proclivities of the troglodytes make me wonder if perhaps the Appalachian crawlers of The Descent are descendants of an eastern branch of the troglodytes?

The troglodyte's eerie communication suggested a number gameable thing to me. It's been proposed than though the Neanderthals lacked full verbal communication as we know it, they might have used singing to convey information and coordinate efforts, as musical ability appears to evolutionarily older. It's certainly a potentially strange and inhuman sort of trait Bone Tomahawk puts to good effect.


The Angry Lurker said...

Hope to see this soon!

Jim Shelley said...

Reading this reminds me - Have you seen Strange Empire? While not tinged with any weirdness, it has a certain amount of unconventionality you might find interesting.

Trey said...

I haven't. Isn't it a Canadian show?

Penelope Sanchez said...

This is a good slow burner. The humorous dialogue and soundtrack were great. The acting was spot on too, especially Kurt's. I was surprised that I didn't recognize Richard Jenkins in his part- great acting. This is the best low budget film I have seen in quite a long time.

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