Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Longer version of piece published by Sight & Sound as part of coverage of the Cult programme at the London Film Festival 2015

“This is why frontier life is so difficult. Not because of the Indians or the elements, but because of the idiots. You’re idiots!”

Indeed, S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut is set in the frontierlands – not just between civilisation and savagery some time after America’s Civil War, but also between oater heroics (and of course antiheroics), Coen-esque clusterfuckery and a pioneering form of horror. The line’s speaker Samantha (Lili Simmons) has been abducted from the town of Bright Hope, along with the sheriff’s deputy and an imprisoned ‘bushwhacker’, and the posse that sets off after them – comprising the sheriff (Kurt Russell), Samantha’s lame husband (Patrick Wilson), an Injun-hating trekker (Matthew Fox) and an aging ‘back-up deputy’ (Richard Jenkins) – will find itself, after several picaresque misadventures, right in the heart of darkness.

This is the ‘weird west’ – an oater that incorporates other genres, that anticipates and cannibalises the culture clash of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) with its own nameless tribe of native body-modifying anthropophagous troglodytes, and that, for all its wit, will eventually offer blood, brutality and gore of a kind that would make Sam Peckinpah or even Giulio Questi blush.

Anton Bitel