“In civilised towns, you look a man direct in the face when you talk to him.”
There’s nothing wrong with B grade, exploitation cinema when it’s done right and it’s genuine. I have a problem with B grade, exploitation cinema done ironically. I like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rogriguez, but I think their Grindhouse project is nothing more than a self indulgent wank. If you have the talent and resources to make something well and high end, intentionally making it look shitty is kind of pissing in the faces of legit B grade film makers who are simply making the most of what they’ve got. The upside to things like Grindhouse is, I’m more aware of the concept of B grade, exploitation cinema than I once was. Which means I’m more aware of movies like Bone Tomahawk.
In post Civil War old west, bandit Purvis (David Arquett) and his partner rob and murder someone in the desert. When their getaway takes them through an Indian burial ground, it leads to spooky shit and the partner being killed. Cut to the peaceful frontier town that Sherriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) is determined to keep peaceful. Purvis arrives and starts a ruckus at the local saloon. A ruckus that Hunt supresses with a bullet to Purvis’ leg and a night in a jail cell. Calling local doctor Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) to heal the gunshot wound, Hunt leaves her and the convalescing Purvis under the watch of Deputy Nick (Evan Jonigkeit).
The next morning, Purvis, Mrs O’Dwyer and Nick are all gone, with arrows informing Hunt that they have been taken by an Indian raiding party. The arrows left behind let them know that the kidnappers are a particularly savage and primitive (not to mention inbred) tribe who live at least a five day horse ride away. So now there’s no time to waste as Hunt, his elderly deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), dandy gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) and the doctor’s husband (Patrick Wilson as Arthur O’Dwyer) race to the rescue.
Bone Tomahawk is first rate, B grade, exploitation cinema at its absolute best. Some intriguing, alluded to violence to open things and put the story in edge straight away. Everyman heroes who are totally badass at the same time as being everymen. Long sections of talking and build up to little explosions of extreme action, gore and violence. And it works, because every actor commits to playing it super straight and super real. There’s no winking at the camera, no little jokes to let us know that it’s just a movie. This is brutal shit, and never tries to dilute the brutality in any way.
And even if the script was terrible, the rest of the cast was terrible and the direction was terrible, Bone Tomahawk would still be worth watching just for Kurt Russell, back in B grade, ass kicker mode. But this is no cheap attempt to reclaim his 80s glory. Sherriff Franklin Hunt isn’t the wise cracking show off from Big Trouble in Little China. He isn’t the nihilistic Snake Plissken from Escape Form New York. He’s the calm, pragmatist, the practical professional, the bloke who speaks quietly, because everyone just knows they need to listen. And his character kind of personifies everything right about Bone Tomahawk. It’s quiet and reserved for long stretches, because it knows it’s already built enough tension to keep our attention until the inevitable explosion of action, gore and violence.