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Bone Tomahawk is a horror western. You don’t see that description in a sentence too often.It’s the story of four men who set out into the wilderness to rescue the town’s doctor and deputy who have been abducted by a tribe of troglodyte cannibals.

Yes, Bone Tomahawk has a very silly central concept, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s also very slow paced, allowing copious amounts of time for meandering characterisation and historical accuracy. The loneliness and brutality of life on the frontier is certainly realised.

Kurt Russell, plays the Sheriff and Richard Jenkins is Chicory his rambling, senile reserve deputy. Patrick Wilson is O’Dwyer, husband to the town’s doctor who insists on joining the rescue party, despite a broken and infected leg. Matthew Fox is the flashy ladies man and Indian slayer Brooder who makes up the gang.

The plot follows their suicide mission to find the group of troglodytes and bring the abductees home. Along the way we are treated to the colourful exploration of the four characters. Chicory is endearing, if frustrating and his banter with Russell makes up the heart of the movie. The film does not shy away from showing us the darker aspects of the characters’ personalities, ultimately presenting us with flawed yet sympathetic individuals.

The one massive mistake in all of this is Lili Simmons who is absolutely dreadful. Not just horribly miscast, but providing an utterly dismal performance. The characterisation is there in the script and the writers have crafted a sympathetic and engaging character. Lili Simmons utterly ruins this with her blank, simpering, soulless performance. She is dire and whoever is responsible for her casting, should be shot. The best thing that can be said about her contribution, is that thankfully, she is off the screen for a good two-thirds of the movie.

Things don’t get really silly until the last half hour. Not only does the action descend to the level of unbelievable action movie, where Patrick ‘Peg-leg’ Wilson saves the day – but the end of the film feels terribly rushed. Considering the laborious pacing of the first hour and a half, I can only assume that the 90 day filming schedule took its toll on the final section.

Despite all this, there is one moment in this film that has really left an impression on me. And I don’t think for a moment that the film-makers intended it to. The scene comes very close to the end when we see the two female members of the cannibal tribe. Both have had all four limbs amputated at the joints and have had wooden stakes hammered into their eyes. Both are heavily pregnant. It’s pretty obvious that the implication is that they have been deliberately mutilated by the cannibals, being used as nothing more than helpless baby factories.

Now this is disturbing enough – but what’s far more disturbing is the film maker’s treatment of this. There is something horribly exploitative about the sudden appearance of these mutilated females. But what’s far worse is that the rescue party do not do the decent thing and put them out of their misery. They simply leave them to die, helplessly, from starvation and dehydration.

Let’s not forget that we paused in this movie to allow Patrick Wilson a twinge of regret for the boy cannibal he dispatches with a bullet to the head. There’s a very touching scene where Brooder puts his loyal horse out of its misery with a bullet to the head. Even the repulsive, be-tusked leader of the tribe has his head hacked off – rather than leaving him to the lingering death he arguably deserves.

But the two tribe women? Nothing. They’re just left. And that was the absolute most horrifying moment in the whole silly tale. The second was the whimpering coyote which was left to bleed to death on the edge of the rescuers camp after it had the misfortune to stumble across them in the night. So there you go, the two tribe women are no better than wild dogs. These men will ride for 5 days and face certain death to rescue the white chick but those two aren’t even worth a bullet.

Horrible. I suppose you could argue that this the harsh reality of living on the frontier – but that just doesn’t ring true to me. I don’t think this was a deliberate attempt to horrify the audience. I think it was just something the film-makers rushed and forgot about in the final, hurried moments of the film. And it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
There’s something very flat and unsatisfying about the final scenes. Questions are left unanswered. Dialogue is garbled and unintelligible. The ultimate fates of the individuals are left uncertain. There’s no closure for the people left back home.

There are other unpleasant scenes in the movie, the worst of them being the unfortunate demise of one character in the mountain cave. In the two hour run time there is a lot of grumbling from the cowboys and lots of scenes of Patrick Wilson either crawling or hopping through the barren wilderness.

Despite all that I’d say Bone Tomahawk is worth a look. I’d give it a solid 3 out of 5, the poor finale, Miss Simmons, poor pacing, Miss Simmons, the general silliness and Miss Simmons certainly pull the overall experience down. The good parts of this film are excellent but the bad parts are very, very ugly.