“… an experience that I surely won’t forget for a while.”
Last night I watched Bone Tomahawk and let me tell you, I absolutely loved it. When Sheriff Franklin Hunt captures a drifter by shooting him in the leg, Samantha O’Dwyer, a local woman who has to fill in for the doctor who is very drunk, travels to the jail to help remove the bullet and get the drifter well enough so “the family of all of the people he killed can watch him turn purple on the rope”. Things go wrong when the next morning the town wakes up to find everyone that was in the jail has gone missing. With only an arrow left behind as a clue, the Sheriff, the back-up deputy, Arthur O’Dwyer (Samantha’s husband), and John Brooder (a local who claims to have killed multiple Indians before) all travel into the great unknown to find this band of savages and safely return those who were captured.
Bone Tomahawk is labeled as a horror, so it took me by surprise when I was laughing so much throughout the film. Sure the film gets scary, but for the most part it is pretty fucking hilarious. A lot of this comedy comes from the characters interacting with one another. We aren’t really introduced to everyone in the small town, but over the course of about 30 minutes we do get a very good understanding of the relationships between characters. This understanding only strengthens when we are left with only four character interacting with one another throughout the majority of the film. The film’s subject is very dark, and yet I kept finding reasons to laugh. A good amount of this comedy comes from Chicory (played by Richard Jenkins), the back-up deputy who has a heart of gold and who is wildly optimistic. A lot of what Chicory says just doesn’t add up with the situation. You would expect the conversations to be kept to a minimum as four men are traversing the ever-dangerous frontier in search of a band of savages who captured, and possibly killed, people that were close to them; but instead we get to hear Chicory rattle-on about reading books in the bathtub, and travelling flea circuses. I guess that’s where most of the comedy comes from in Bone Tomahawk, the unexpected nature of the film. Like I said, Bone Tomahawk is a very dark film, but the story is presented (for the most part) in such a light-hearted manner that you just have to laugh. Of course the film does pick up in terms of intensity, and though it doesn’t become necessarily scary it definitely keeps you on edge.
One thing I absolutely loved about Bone Tomahawk was the way the story was presented. Watching this film was almost like watching a play; there were minimal characters on screen, the soundtrack was pretty much non-existent (aside from a few moments), and the sets were very barren. Now of course the story takes place in the middle of nowhere, so no it’s no surprise that the sets were “barren”, but even the town where the film starts doesn’t shy away from the notion that only about ten people live there. We are so used busy settings in films, because we are accustomed to similar settings in our life. This causes films that wouldn’t normally be chock-full of characters (something like A Million Ways to Die in the West), to make the setting as busy as possible which in a way reduces the immersion of the old west. Luckily, Bone Tomahawk does exactly the opposite. We are introduced to the town at night, so the empty buildings seem fitting; but come morning time we find that the previous night was apparently the busiest time for this small town. The set is empty, there is no sound, and the few characters we do have just seem to put up with each other; all of these factors come together to create one of the more charming films that I have seen in a while. To go along with the empty-nature of Bone Tomahawk, the film’s score consist of about three songs. The songs are very good, all of them immersing me into the story with the emotional string-arrangements, but there aren’t many of them. This again adds to the atmosphere of the play, like I mentioned before. Again, this adds undeniable charm to the film. The film was pretty much carried by it’s actors (that’s not meant as an insult) and I think that’s why I loved it so much. The main four characters that we go on this journey with are absolutely wonderfully acted, each bringing their own feeling to the film. I’m not going to go into character motivations and all that for fear of spoiling the film, but I was thoroughly impressed. Even past the main characters you have a (rather small) cast of characters who added life to the town at the beginning of the film, and each one of them also did great jobs. Again, it only took a few lines for us to understand the relationships between all of the characters and that is because of the stellar acting.
Now, I keep saying that Bone Tomahawk had ‘charm’, and I realize that doesn’t mean much on its own; so I will elaborate. Bone Tomahawk to me felt like a B-movie (no, not that Bee Movie), but that’s not an insult. B-Movies (at least the good ones) have the same charm that Bone Tomahawk oozed. I think a lot of it comes from the reduced budget that these films often have. What we get to see is a filmmaker making their dreams come true with what they have. And although I doubt Bone Tomahawk had the same issues as a B-Movie, it definitely captured the essence. Most of this feeling comes from Bone Tomahawk’s effects. All of the effects, at least that I could see, were practical. This is wonderful, but at the same time it can look cheap. I’m not going to go into a rant about the pros and cons of practical effects (I’m a huge fan of them actually), I’m just stating my opinion. Despite these effects looking ‘cheap’ at times, they were very effective, and again I’m going to say charming. Now a lot of the magic with the effects came from the sound design in the film, which was absolutely disgusting. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever had my stomach turn from just sounds, but Bone Tomahawk accomplished just that. These sounds are visceral and they leave so much up to the imagination, which helps sell the sometimes cheesy props. Now there are a few issues that I had with Bone Tomahawk, and they mainly pertain the the film’s third act. There won’t be any spoilers though, so don’t worry. One thing I felt while watching the movie is that the third act felt a little out of place. The entire movie is like this hyper-authentic western, and then the third act happens and it feels more like a weird episode of a sci-fi television show. There was really only one issue I had that set this feeling off, but it was pretty hard to shake. I also had an issue with what I considered a plot hole in the film, again in the third act. Despite these problems I found, Bone Tomahawk remained a thoroughly fun movie.
Ultimately Bone Tomahawk was absolutely fantastic. The setting, the acting, the score, the effects, and the story all come together to create an experience that I surely won’t forget for a while. Even despite it’s few issues, Bone Tomahawk manages to be one of the more enjoyable movies that I have seen.
I give Bone Tomahawk an A