Some films acquire a cult status almost by accident. Others, come galloping over the horizon, waving flags and blowing trumpets to announce that this is their greatest ambition. Much of the advance talk about Bone Tomahawk suggests that this is surely the latter kind of beast. And what a curious beast it is, an 18 certificate mash-up of John Ford’s The Searchers and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Let me warn those of a nervous disposition that this is an extremely visceral movie with unflinching scenes of bodily carnage.
Of course, like many other films these days, it hasn’t made it to the multiplexes, but interested parties will find it at the independent cinemas – we caught it at Home, Manchester. Set in the Wild West at an unspecified time, it tells the story of the abduction of a white woman by ‘troglodytes.’ Yes, you read that right. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler clearly thinks he’s neatly sidestepped the issue of showing native Americans in a bad light by making his baddies inbred mutants, who no local tribe wants to claim as their own. The trouble is, he’s not really fooling anyone with this approach. Presenting his villains in this dehumanised way is actually a bit of a cop-out, a way to avoid dealing with the very important issues of identity and representation.
The abducted woman is local medic Samantha (Lili Simmons) whose husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is currently laid up with a badly injured leg. He insists on going after his wife along with grizzled Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) his likeable old deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and a local dandy, Brooder (Matthew Fox, finally finding a decent post-Lost role). The four men set out on their quest and the film’s most telling moments are concerned with the interplay between them. But as they draw nearer to the hidden valley where the troglodytes dwell, things take a particularly nasty turn…
Bone Tomahawk is by no means perfect – there are some clunky moments in there and I thought the ending was decidedly unimpressive. What’s more, Samantha seems to survive her terrible ordeal without smudging her makeup. But despite its shortcomings, I rather enjoyed the journey. Clearly shot at a fraction of the budget of a big Hollywood movie, the sheer weirdness of the film does tend to exert a hold on the viewer, even if some of the violence is of the ‘look away quickly’ variety. I can honestly say I’ve never seen another Western quite like it – and for that alone, it’s worth seeking out.