What do you get if you cross a moustache-chewing western, absurdist Coens-esque dialogue and a dash of unflinching body horror? A darn fine cult classic is what. See below.
IN KEEPING with the idea that the best use for Kurt Russell these days is in talky, blood-letting westerns, Bone Tomahawk would appear to be a familiar proposition for anyone who survived Tarantino’s bloated The Hateful Eight. And yet while writer-director-polymath S Craig Zahler’s film outdoes Tarantino both for absurdism and gore, it is far superior.
Playing out like some kind of high-class B-movie genre clash (offbeat Coens-esque dialogue, period western setpieces, a sharp swerve into body horror and wilderness dread), Zahler’s debut is certainly not for the feint-hearted despite its relatively frivolous tones early on.
The “Kurt Russance” continues apace. Still sporting his Hateful Eight handlebar, he plays Sheriff Hunt, called to the village saloon one night when a bedraggled stranger (David Arquette) turns up and unsettles the peace in the sleepy outpost.
Once the drifter is behind bars and night has fallen, the town doctor (Lili Simmons) and a young deputy are mysteriously kidnapped. It turns out to be the work of a savage, cannibalistic tribe of natives (referred to only as “troglodytes”, bemusingly). Hunt sets out with his doddery remaining deputy, Chicory (the ever-brilliant Richard Jenkins), the doctor’s injured husband (Patrick Wilson) and a dapper fast-shooting playboy (Lost’s Matthew Fox).
Off they ride into the heart of prairie darkness on a rescue mission, a journey as beset with misfortune as it is with wry wit. Awaiting them at their destination is some of the most laughably shocking movie gore you’ll see this year. That it still somehow feels an essential part of the overall tapestry is incredible and part of the reason Zahler is a talent to watch closely.
Bonkers, bloody and oddly brilliant, this is destined to have a long and fruitful cult life ahead of it.
First published in the Sunday Independent