Feels like I’m getting into a rhythm again, hopefully you guys are still enjoying the reviews. Please don’t hesitate to leave comments! I really love getting feedback, good or bad, and I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing and my reviews. Also, since I have your attention, why not check out The Love/Hate Podcast that me and my partner Melissa have been putting together for the last 3 weeks. We’re taking a look at the 52 highest rated horror movies on Rotten Tomatoes, and have some pretty controversial opinions. Click PODCAST up along the top of the page to hear that! Anyways, time to get a bit uncomfortable and talk about Bone Tomahawk.
Four men set out in the Wild West to rescue a group of captives from cannibalistic cave dwellers.
Remember westerns? No, no I wasn’t born during their heyday either, but the story of cowboys and (vs) indians has become ubiquitous in Hollywood, and you could argue has even shaped our understanding of the history of the formation of both Canada and the United States. You could say that people aren’t informed by film, but when you don’t have a firm concept of history, why wouldn’t you pull some influence from the pop culture around you? The portrayal of First Nations people in film as savages, and the constant referral to them as such, is something that we are all aware of, even if we don’t particularly like western movies. The issue with this kind of story, in 2015, is that it always feel a bit uncomfortable and dated. The idealized version of the wild west is something that has absolutely not aged well, especially as more and more is learned about the treatment of First Nations people by Europeans during the colonization of North America, and more of that knowledge is fed into the mainstream. It’s because of this that Bone Tomahawk made me pretty uncomfortable from start to finish, because it wasn’t released years ago, but this year.
Now, I know that many of you are thinking “ITS AN HOMAGE TO CLASSIC WESTERRRRRNNNNNS GAAWWWDDDDD DON’T BE SUCH A PC SJW DBAG GODDDDDDDDDDD”, but the fact is, homage or not, the ideas and characterizations in this movie are pretty dated and bizarre to watch in a contemporary movie. Hell, the movie is even full of actors that I like, giving really solid performances, but you can’t just ignore the parts about the movie that are uncomfortable, because doing that gives the green light to continue. As well, it’s not as though this movie is doing anything new or interesting with the archetypes of a Western. It’s a pretty standard story of “good guys vs bad guys” and the bad guys are “savages”. There is an aboriginal character who is portrayed as pretty assimilated, and he is the “good indian” in the movie, which is an uncomfortable character as well. They also introduce one black character, only to have him immediately shot and killed about 30 seconds after he is introduced, leaving us with a mostly white-male cast for the rest of the film.
I mentioned actors that I liked, and I stand by that. The movie stars Kurt Russel (Death Proof) with a stunningly beautiful beard, and giving a dynamite performance as he always does, as well as Patrick Wilson (Insidious), who I generally enjoy as an actor. You also have Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods), Matthew Fox (Lost), Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects) and David Arquette (Scream). When it comes to the casting of the Native American characters, there is a casual nature to the way that they are cast, I found two actors in the credited cast who were Native American, or at least that I could find out were, but it seemed that casting them wasn’t terribly important here, which is unfortunately pretty common for movies like this.
As well as a pretty solid cast, you have a pretty good directorial effort by S. Craig Zahler, in his debut. He is also responsible for writing this, and previously wrote Asylum Blackout, which is one that I’ve heard good things about. It’s clear that Zahler likes westerns, and has an understanding of how they work and what elements need to be included to make them work. He also works quite well with cinematographer Benji Bakshi (Comedy Bang Bang) and there’s simply no denying that the movie is well shot, and competently made. With the exception of being substantially longer than it has any business being. At over 2 hours, it’s really unclear as to why this needed to go on as long as it did. It could have worked a bit better with a trim of 40 or so minutes, because the time spent developing the characters isn’t especially interesting. They are the stock characters of most westerns, and it’s another thing that shows this isn’t really trying anything new. With the exception of some weird and super obvious reused shots, the movie does work on a technical level.
What I’ve seen in a lot of reviews is the praise given to the violence and intensity of the end of the film, while I’m not sure that the violence is anything more than we might be used to in any other horror movie, where this movie sets itself apart is in the lack of a soundtrack. With no soundtrack to punctuate EVERY SINGLE ACTION EVER, the violence is presented in a way that feels very matter-of-factly. Kind of like whenever someone dies in the wire, there’s no ceremony about it, it’s just done. There is some pretty brutal violence in the last act of the movie, though its nothing you won’t be able to see if you got through Eli Roth’s latest pile of shit.
Ultimately what you have here is an overlong, outdated horror movie where the white guys win over the evil “savages” that has some gory or disturbing moments in the last 20 minutes. It’s not a bad film, but it’s also one that feels weird in 2015. It’s competently made, but I have to wonder … why? Anyways, I had a lot more to say about this than I expected, so let me know what you though.