There is something gloriously Tarantino-esque about S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut Bone Tomahawk. There’s a certain slickness and rhythm to the pulpy dialogue, a suaveness implemented with a minimum contrivance, a swagger and intensity. Except, while this is released after Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight, few would have predicted this to be the more accomplished, compelling picture of the two; but Zahler has emulated the renowned auteur and created something really quite special.
Set in the Wild West, the local Sheriff (Kurt Russell) is put on alert when informed there’s a guy acting out of line at the nearby tavern. When doctor Samantha (Lili Simmons) heads over to lend a hand, the small town is shocked to wake up and discover she’s been kidnapped. So the Sheriff, his loyal assistant Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and the wounded husband of the victim, Arthur (Patrick Wilson) set off to bring her back home. What they hadn’t expected to encounter, however, was a terrifying tribe of cannibals, who have no intentions of letting their dinner go to waste.
The premise is remarkably simplistic and executed deftly and with such confidence by this talented director. Zahler establishes a unique tone and plays with the audience’s perceptions from there on, as Bone Tomahawk is a horror flick that ensures the vast majority of the fear takes place in our own minds, a more challenging and yet far more rewarding approach to the genre. Though wildly entertaining and captivating, Bone Tomahawk is by no means just a spaghetti-Western pastiche, nor is it simply overstated escapist fun. This film transcends mere entertainment and works as a striking piece of cinema, stylistic and with such indelible cinematography, while the harsh, unforgiving landscape of the desert makes for an immersive, vital component in creating this distinctively chilling atmosphere.
The performances help to elevate Bone Tomahawk above your typical genre fare, with Jenkins in particular providing not only the few laughs that exist, but the heart too, with a profoundly empathetic display, and yet he is so subtle and nuanced with it. Here is a collective of actors striving to bring their director’s vision emphatically to the big screen, and they have all triumphed. There may be shades of Tarantino, but with a debut like this, it’s fair to say that an equally as prosperous a career really could be on the horizon for Zahler.