Bone Tomahawk (2016)
Genre-mixes can sometimes work refreshingly well (such as in films like From Dusk Till Dawn or, more recently, Låt den rätte komma in). It is a gamble, however, because not all filmmakers manage to mould their two chosen genres into a well-functioning whole. When it works so well in one of this year's best films, Bone Tomahawk, it is partly because the genre-mix is realized by the filmatic tone, and not by a clash of thematics.
After an ominous prelude, Bone Tomahawk opens as a classically constructed western with a considerate attention to character and details. First-time writer/director S. Craig Zahler demonstrates an immaculate confidence in his own ability as a storyteller. He has previously worked as a novelist and certainly knows the importance of building up everything from character relations to narrative predicaments and his ultimate lurking threat. Anyone who has seen John Ford's best works will appreciate the tidy and well-played first half of the film in which a quiet western town is shaken-up by first the appearance of a distraught criminal (David Arquette), then the abduction of this criminal and the doctor's assistant (Lili Simmons) who had attended to him in jail. Subsequently, the town's best men, led by the sheriff (Kurt Russell) and including a garrulous, mild-mannered deputy (Richard Jenkins), a cocky and educated gunslinger/womanizer (Matthew Fox) and the hard-nosed husband of the abducted girl (Patrick Wilson), who incidentally is limp from a broken leg.
As our four protagonists embark on their disadvantageous rescue-mission, the tone of the film slowly changes from the jovial and well-established routines of the western town to the increasingly menacing reality of uncharted lands. They have road-bandits, the husband's deteriorating health and, last but not least, the unascertained threat of the troglodyte clan they're chasing to handle. This is the film's make-or-break part, where a lesser director would be most likely to put his foot wrong, but where Zahler shows his talent and skill. Without revealing more of the plot, it suffices to say that the suspense creeps up on you and reaches unprecedented levels of intensity for the western genre. It becomes gory and horrific, but it also resonates – because you actually believe that something like this could have happened. And Zahler's achievement is made all the better by the fact that he never compromises the logic or authenticity of neither his story nor the western genre. It's a rare feat, making Bone Tomahawk one of the best westerns of the modern era. And the four lead actors revel in the latitude created by Zahler, none more so than Russell who leads this with an assured, noble performance.