I don’t recall exactly why I wanted to see Bone Tomahawk – despite seeing some great movies in the genre, I’ve never been a huge fan of Westerns. For me, they work better when the genre is used as a backdrop for less conventional stories (The Hateful Eight and The Revenant are two good examples), so it’s entirely possible that the words “horror” and “cannibals” are what pushed me over. It also has Kurt Russell in it, an actor I always enjoy watching.
From the get-go, though, I could feel this movie wasn’t going to play well for me, and I can put that down exactly to the look of the movie. The cinematography and lighting was amateurish and cheap, and that’s a real dagger in the heart of any movie. Almost every scene in this movie looks flat and plain, with very few interesting shot compositions, and a real lack of technical diversification. Despite the fact that the interiors are beautiful – I don’t know if these were sets, or if the movie was filmed in pre-existing structures – watching the movie feels like you’re watching a stage production from the mid-priced seats. This carries over to the exterior shots too. The lack of decent lighting and camera work made me overly conscious that I was watching a movie from the crew’s perspective, where everything is dull and ordinary. The lack of a dramatic score did nothing but enhance this feeling of detachment – there is some good music in the movie, but it’s scattered throughout a handful of scenes in the second half, but even then, I felt the music was in the wrong scenes.
But enough about the technical flaws, what’s the movie actually like? The prologue certainly foreshadows a mixed genre movie with weird noises, portentous objects, and the appearance of a mysterious being, but it’s evident once you’re about half an hour into the movie that isn’t really the case. I enjoyed the dialogue and the characters, I have to say. It did seem that that writer/director S. Craig Zahler made an attempt for authenticity here, and I definitely applaud his efforts. Having said that, the middle of the movie falls as flat as the cinematography as the characters embark on their rescue mission and spend much of it simply riding through brush and across the plain. A plot point that has a significant effect on the progress of their mission crops up at the midpoint, yet it doesn’t really go anywhere at all. It feels forced, if nothing else – likewise, the injury to Patrick Wilson’s character. I never really understood the need for it to be in from the beginning. It would have had much more effect on his character and the plot if it had happened at the midpoint during that plot point. As it is, it does tend to go on and on and on, and the sum effect of it on me was that I just couldn’t buy his involvement in the third act at all.
The matter of the “horror” in the movie mostly comes in the form of a pretty brutal murder scene in the third act. The casual manner of the killing totally works here, because in context it’s shot in the same unimaginative manner as the rest of the movie and so stands out. It definitely provided a wow factor in this otherwise dull and lifeless movie. In fact, the last fifteen minutes or so are actually pretty good, and I suspect are mostly responsible for the 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and this is where Kurt Russell earns his paycheck. His final scene is a terrific piece of acting, even though his involvement in it leads to a terribly truncated end to the evil forces in the story.
At the end of the day, the smart dialogue and characterization is undone by a lack of technical expertise behind the camera. At no point did I ever feel invested in the unfolding events and the undeserved two and a quarter hour running time only exacerbates the feeling I had that the story wasn’t compelling enough it its final form to tell.
This review was originally published on 2/13/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com