No Split Decision, BONE TOMAHAWK Slayed Us [Two Cents]

 

Two Cents
Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Last week’s pick, Big Trouble in Little China, found us loving every minute of Kurt Russell in John Wayne mode, so we figured – why not do it again?

With The Hateful Eight storming theaters, we present a timely Kurt Russell twofer with the harrowing Bone Tomahawk. Both films could be considered western horror, and feature Kurt Russell with his epic facial hair, but only Bone Tomahawk has feral cannibals, coils of entrails and, well, bone tomahawks. Bone Tomahawk has become something of a 2015 surprise hit and is, incredibly, the feature debut of one S. Craig Zahler.

The film burst from unknown curiosity into a hot ticket item for genre die-hards when it tore the roof off the Alamo Drafthouse as the closing night film of Fantastic Fest. Even for that jaded crowd, samplers of some of cinema’s most extreme offerings, Bone Tomahawk hit like the proverbial diamond bullet to the brain. Deliberately paced, wickedly gruesome, Bone Tomahawk presented audiences with a twisted facet of the American West not seen since the days when filmmakers transmuted the horrors of Vietnam into myths from America’s last frontier.

With a packed ensemble led by Kurt Russell and Kurt Russell’s magnificent, magnificent mustache, Bone Tomahawk has drawn strong reactions from fan and detractor alike. We put it up to the entire squad to ride out with the film and see what they thought.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

With heavy hearts we say goodbye to Alan Rickman, the talented Englishman who is best known for his roles as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. But Rickman boasts an impressive filmography of many memorable roles, routinely elevating good films to great, and great films into the pantheon of all-time classics. Galaxy Quest seems an appropriate pick for at least a couple reasons. Thematically, it’s about actors aging and trying to continue to be relevant. And when word of Rickman’s passing reached us, it was his immortal catchphrase from this film that sang from atop the trending topics for hours.

Additionally, we’re now three movies deep into a new Star Trek film series, not to mention a new Star Wars, making Galaxy Quest‘s elements of parody and satire more timely and intriguing now that when it released in 1999.

Stream on Netflix: http://www.netflix.com/title/28369403

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!

Our Guests

Nick Spacek:If ever there were a movie to which you should know as little as possible, Bone Tomahawk would be it. The more one knows going into the film, the less shock and horror they experience. Talking about it in this way is astonishingly difficult, but it is enough to say that it’s definitely a film that embraces the slow burn to extremes that may seem out of touch with today’s audiences. However, the performances by everyone involved in the posse make the conversation-heavy first half of the film an absolute delight to watch. Patrick Wilson, especially, seems to be suited for appearing in films not of this modern era. The further back in time he goes, the more appropriate and well-suited he seems to be for a role. The burn is emphasized even further by the fact that the score by Jeff Herriott and S. Craig Zahler doesn’t kick in until we’re a solid 30 minutes into the film. Director Zahler makes you wait for what he’s giving you, but he delivers on his promises. This will be a film which rewards multiple viewings, and gives up a little more of itself with each successive watch. (@nuthousepunks)

Jaime Burchardt:I watched Bone Tomahawk just a couple of days ago, and the aspect that still has a hold on my brain is just how it changes its core at the snap of a finger. Literally, it’s that fast. The way it’s handled and presented, you’d figure that first-time director/writer S. Craig Zahler has been genre-mashing for decades. And even before we get to that point, we’re given a thoughtful western with a slow-burner pace that’s easy to embrace thanks to the outstanding ensemble cast and the dialogue they’re given. They all embrace their characters with bravado and grace (I had no idea that was Richard Jenkins until about ten minutes in). For those who’ve heard all this time it goes from a western to a horror film, it’s true. My freaking god, it’s true. It becomes this relentless monster, refusing to sugar coat any of the madness that unfolds, leaving me guessing till the bloody end. I also need to say; this is the second 2015 movie that had me cheering at a Kurt Russell performance. I loved this movie. (@jaimeburchardt)

Trey Lawson:Bone Tomahawk is a Western. That goes without saying – the poster has mustachioed cowboy Kurt Russell. But it’s also horror, and in blending genres the film succeeds in forging its own path through allusions to well-worn territory. Its description suggests Bone Tomahawk is a combination of The Searchers and The Hills Have Eyes. In execution the film suggests Anthony Mann’s Westerns, whose mountainous terrain and damaged characters contrast the valleys and heroes of John Ford. Patrick Wilson’s performance in particular evokes the wounded James Stewart in The Naked Spur, painfully dragging his leg to keep up with the others.

The hybrid horror-Western forces reflection. It de-romanticizes a period mythologized for over a century. The troglodytes’ appearance, actions, and lack of explanation place them within the realm of 70s horror monsters (in the vein of the aforementioned Hills Have Eyes or even The Shape in Halloween). When the violence hits, it hits HARD and doesn’t pull any punches. For me the film – especially in its second half – provoked loud, visceral reactions. Bone Tomahawk, along with The Hateful Eight and The Revenant reflect a mini-resurgence in the Western genre – but it’s telling that in all three the genre almost by necessity incorporates horror elements. That period of our collective past must be faced, even if it can no longer be seen through the haze of nostalgia. (@T_Lawson)

Brendan Agnew:It would be easy to get the wrong idea about Bone Tomahawk, as the easiest way of describing the film almost does it a disservice. Yes, in broadest strokes, it’s the blending of the western and horror genres (specifically cannibal horror), but that only really becomes defining later on in the film. For much of Tomahawk‘s run-time, it’s focused on being a real-deal western in the vein of The Searchers, and it’s in the meat (sorry) of the story that the film plays its best hand.

The four leads may be easily categorized by recognizable genre archetype, but almost immediately these familiar roles are skewed in interesting ways. The sheriff is a well-adjusted family man; the “backup” deputy a borderline-useless (physically) codger; the cowboy is hobbled, barely able to walk; and the gunslinger may just be the most charming sociopath you ever met. Kurt Russell (and his glorious facial hair), Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson, and Matthew Fox are all dynamite, served by a script that blends solid fundamentals of narrative construction with some of the best dialogue you’ll see outside a Tarantino movie all year.

And then the movie just goes fucking NUTS in the final forty minutes, but still on its own lyrically-paced and almost understated terms. Which, of course, makes the atrocities we’re subjected to all the more harrowing and that final shot all the more affecting. (@BLCAgnew)

Marcelo Pico:In Bone Tomahawk, Kurt Russell cements his stance as our generation’s John Wayne, playing small town sheriff Franklin Hunt. The supporting cast fill familiar Western archetypes as well, from Matthew Fox playing a gunslinging anti-hero, to Richard Jenkins playing the squeaky-voiced deputy.

What really elevates Bone Tomahawk is its horror element. Sure, the plot revolves around an all too familiar damsel in distress, as our heroes embark on a rescue mission. The danger here comes from a clan of troglodytes who rip apart any civilized person they can get their hands on. Trust me, when our heroes finally encounter the clan, it’s brutal and turns Bone Tomahawk into one of the best horror movies in recent years, even if it’s for just a few scenes.

Jenkins is the secret weapon in the movie; shades of Andy Devine (Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, among other Western classics) come through in his multi-layered performance. He’s our bright light into this dark, blood-soaked Western world. We need it because Bone Tomahawk gives us a glimpse into the unknown, into our deepest fears, and it does so with the mindset of John Ford classics with the backbone of the goriest of horror movies. (@MarceloJPico)

The Team

Justin:Bone Tomahawk is the kind of movie that my dad watched every Saturday on TV while I was growing up… except with cannibal humanoid creatures and graphic torture scenes. Much more western than horror, this ensemble driven adventure follows the classic western framework and pacing, which makes the horrifying scenes all the more effective and the gore all the more shocking.

Kurt Russell is the sheriff, leading a brilliant cast of archetypal western characters. While these are somewhat stock characters from traditional westerns, every performance is perfect. The best of which is probably Richard Jenkins as Chicory, the backup deputy sheriff who is the village fool and somewhat unintentional wise old sage.

There’s very little negative to say about this film, especially when considering it’s the debut from director S. Craig Zahler. Easily one of the best films in a great year for film, a must watch. (@thepaintedman)

Austin:Most people will say that Jaws is about a killer shark, but the heart of that film is three very different men banding together to face down the monster. In the same way, Bone Tomahawk can be reduced to “cannibal western”, but is really about a lawman and his hastily organized posse riding out to right a grievous wrong.

From the moment I realized I was watching Sid Haig and David Arquette as a pair of sleazy bandits in the film’s opening, I was fully on board. Both the acting and dialogue in this film are incredible, and each of the leads bring so much out of their characters (who embody many of the key descriptors of Jaws‘ three heroes, spread across the four of them). Kurt Russell is whip-smart as the conscientious sheriff, but he’s astonishingly equaled by the endearing doddering of Richard Jenkins’ elderly widower, and the injured Patrick Wilson’s prayers as he literally enters the Valley Of The Shadow of Death to find – or avenge – his kidnapped wife. Immediately one of my favorite films of 2015. (@VforVashaw)

Brendan: I enjoyed this movie plenty the first time I saw it, but I must have been plain too exhausted to really vibe with the film’s slow burn charms, and walked away thinking it was solid and well-constructed but maybe not something I would revisit all that often.

On the rewatch, I am comfortable calling Bone Tomahawk and honest-to-God great film, with beautifully ornate dialogue, a carefully calculated machine of set-up and payoff, and maybe the best ensemble of any film this year. Russell, Fox, Wilson and especially especially especially Richard Jenkins take strong material and add masterful grace notes of humanity to their archetypal figures. I have not doubt that Bone Tomahawk‘s reputation will only continue to bloom as time goes on.

If nothing else, genre fans are going to be devouring that split scene for decades.
(@TheTrueBrendanF)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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the author

Austin Vashaw is a technology and new media professional in Overland Park, KS (a Kansas City 'burb). Film yakker, wisecracker, tact lacker, and BK Stacker snacker; lover of photography, Victorian literature, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. @VforVashaw | letterboxd.com/VforVashaw