Bone Tomahawk is an odd duck, a bowlegged western with slasher influences, a penchant for lengthy conversational meanderings, and a genuine interest in character. The film’s CHUD antagonists are pretty unexpected, too. The far-flung elements worked in by writer-director S. Craig Zahler understandably result in some narrative unevenness, but he avoids dog-headed-bird incongruities.
A band of mysterious tribal people descend one night on the frontier town Bright Hope, killing a stableboy and kidnapping a prisoner, a sheriff’s deputy, and the pretty wife (Lili Simmons) of a cowboy (Patrick Wilson). Despite convalescing from a broken leg, O’Dwyer, the cowboy, joins a posse consisting of the town’s sheriff (Kurt Russell), a condescending gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and the most exhausted deputy in the Western territories — played by Richard Jenkins, he’s constantly spilling into scenes shoulders first, slumping against walls and horses, his every weary line spoken like deathbed groans. The tribe they’re hunting is described as cannibalistic, inbred cave dwellers without language, and their territory looks like the creepy, stick-totem-strewn “Carcosa” episode of True Detective.
The film’s biggest problem is a bloated second act in which the men spend about 100 years on a three-day ride to catch the killers and save the victims. But the characters are thoughtfully embellished, and Zahler’s script finds occasional traction with engaging dialogue that includes exploration of the men’s contrasting attitudes about marriage.
Then there’s a ridiculously bloody confrontation with the cannibalistic troglodytes; the posse may pursue a single purpose, but the film’s agendas are legion.
Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler
Opens October 23, AMC Empire 25
Available on demand