Paul Kennedy, Contributor.
Bone Tomahawk is a film of missed opportunities. In the first few minutes, director and writer S. Craig Zahler sets up everything you’d want from a Western Horror genre piece, but fails to deliver on nearly all of it.
Starring Kurt Russell (who seems to be here to get a second use out of that beard he grew for The Hateful Eight), Bone Tomahawk takes place in the town of Bright Hope, where a mysterious stranger has come and brought with him a deeply hellish trouble in the form of a quasi-satanic native American cult.
A classic setup for some satisfying genre fare. However the pacing, perhaps in an attempt to create tension, is the film’s major sticking point. The length that Zahler Lingers on moments that do almost nothing to move forward the story or character progression sucks the air entirely from the film. Long stretches of time go by without much happening at all. The film’s second act takes place entirely on the long, laborious journey to the camp of the villains and you could fit all that happens on the back of your ticket stub.
I’ve heard comparisons to The Searchers due to the settler anxiety central to the plot. These comparisons however are wholly undue in terms of depth – if the Searcher’s is an ocean, Bone Tomahawk‘s no more than a paddling pool. This would not be a problem if the film delivered some genuine genre enjoyment, but aside from a few sparse moments, it does not. The film has about forty minutes worth of ideas stretched into two hours and fifteen minutes.
It’s a shame really because the film has potential but the director seems to miss every chance to create something better. He ignores any questions about the nature of the relationship between settlers and native tribes, sidestepping anything that could create some meaningful and interesting discussion. Centrally, he doesn’t have anything to say. And aside from some beautiful cinematography (Zahler is originally a cinematographer) he doesn’t have much here with which to entertain us. There are a few moments where his potential shines, a few moments of pitch perfect gore, action, or a line so beautifully written it pulls you back into the film. Hopefully as his career continues Zahler will be able to bring this potential to the forefront. But this film is not funny enough, scary enough or interesting enough to be worth your time. It’s a shame because the western horror genre is one ripe for a good story and an entertaining film. Bone tomahawk is neither of these.