2015/10/08 23:52:57 +00:00 | Sean McClannahan

Acclaimed novelist S. Craig Zahler's impressive feature directorial debut takes an uncompromising approach to blending the classic western genre seamlessly with dark humor and ruthless horror elements in successful fashion.

The opening scene remarkably foreshadows the malevolent conclusion as two merciless corpse robbers, portrayed by Sid Haig and David Arquette, foolishly wander into a forbidden burial ground and get a horrifying glimpse of what will await the protagonists on their long existential journey. This scene sways between nasty and hilarious as the outlaws go about their business and the further they wander into uncharted territory the suspense builds like a beating drum until the inevitable horror relentlessly drops an assault like a punch in the throat.

A savage murder and kidnapping of a fugitive and local doctor Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) in the town of Bright Hope instigates a rescue mission by Sheriff Hunt (played by the charismatic Kurt Russell), his loyal deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), arrogant and intellectual aristocrat John Brooder (Matthew Fox) and the kidnapped doctor's husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson).

Zahler takes his time getting his characters to the horrific encounter that awaits them, allowing their traits to blossom through humorous and dramatic exchanges while establishing an empathetic chemistry between Hunt and Chicory. Benji Bakshi’s cinematography often captures the travelers from a distance blending with the landscape which has a great visceral payoff when they reach the desolate caves and the brutal carnage patiently awaits them in the claustrophobic abyss.

There are sporadic moments along the journey where Zahler strays and lingers off the beaten path in sacrifice of the main objective, however the bold character choices and inspired discourse help maintain investment in their plight, organically leading the expedition upon the destination at hand while expanding inner-conflict between the characters for rich dramatic fulfillment. All four of the main characters maintain archetypal mannerisms on the surface, yet the more Zahler allows his characters to open up through interaction, more depth shines through and build a stronger subtext for the themes to get across.

Bone Tomahawk is a film that I can easily see dividing opinions. What I found to be meditative and frightening, others might find slow-paced and repugnant, to which I'll respectfully disagree. There is no argument though, that S. Craig Zahler is a daring fresh talent with a strong vision and a directorial debut that leaves his mark loud and clear. I have a strong sense that this is only the beginning for what Zahler's imagination can bring to cinema and this movie left a feeling in my gut that only happens when a daring new visionary displays his talent and commands our attention as his potential brings bright hope for what we'll see in the future.

Movie Score: 4.5/5