A Brief Review of Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Bone Tomahawk

I finally got around to seeing Bone Tomahawk (2015), a Western horror film that has been on my list since I first heard about it. I did not know much about it going in but was drawn to it for two reasons. First, I will see just about anything with Kurt Russell in it. I don't always like the films he does, but I almost always like him in the films he does. Second, I love horror movies and Westerns. Combining the two genres into one film is something that isn't done often enough. Most of the time it is attempted, viewers are treated to little more than a horror film with Western sets. This one was different.

We can debate whether or not Bone Tomahawk should be called a horror film, but it was clearly a Western. Anyone thinking of seeing it should know that it is primarily a Western and be prepared to view it that way. The first two-thirds of the film reminded me a lot of the John Wayne classic The Searchers. I'm sure that wasn't accidental. Potential viewers who do not like Westerns should steer clear of this one.

The other thing you need to know about Bone Tomahawk is that it is extremely slow-moving. If you are looking for thrills or fast-paced action, you are going to be disappointed. The bulk of the film involves four men traveling across a mostly barren landscape with relatively little happening. Things pick up at the end, but you'll need quite a bit of patience to make it that far. Even fans of slow-burn horror flicks (e.g., The Witch) may get bored with this one, which is another reason why those who don't like Westerns probably won't like it. It was slow-moving even for someone like me.

What about the horror? I mentioned that things pick up toward the end, and they do. Just about the time I found myself fighting to stay awake and wondering whether anything was going to happen, Tomahawk kicked into high gear and didn't let up. But does it deserve to be called a horror film? It wasn't scary, but the level of violence and gore was something I hadn't seen in any other serious Western. There probably wasn't enough of it to satisfy horror fans looking for that sort of thing, and putting all of it at the end probably won't help. Still, I found it unsettling enough that I'd say it deserved the label.

Kurt Russell was as good as he always is, and I thought the whole cast was strong. But really, I think Tomahawk worked because it deceived the audience so well. I went into it not sure what to expect and quickly settled into a Western. While there was some mild foreshadowing at very the beginning, I mostly forgot about it as the characters were developed. So much of the film was not just a Western but one that felt very familiar that I forgot all about any horror angle and was just content to watch a good Western. And that was the moment when Tomahawk delivered its punch. I found it quite effective.

The main drawback here is that this one is probably going to appeal to a fairly small audience. It isn't just that you need to like Westerns; you need to be very patient and enjoy the slow-moving character-driven sort of Western where several frames go by without much of anything happening. And while there is some horror at the end, it is compressed into such a small portion of the film that I can't imagine fans looking for straight-up horror will find it enough of a payoff to get through the rest of the film. As much as I liked it, I'd be hesitant to recommend it to more than a limited audience.

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