I checked out the 2015 western/horror flick, Bone Tomahawk, for two reasons. First, I like those genres, and second, the film stars Kurt Russell, one of my favorites. I had not even heard of it until recently, and it is not hard to understand why. The film had a limited release (real limited), and its box office draw hardly paid for the popcorn. But it won critical acclaim from many reviewers and at various film festivals for the performances of its solid cast and its unique storyline, and it deserved better.
BRIGHT HOPE IS ANYTHING BUT…
I won’t issue a spoiler alert for this brief synopsis, but there will be a warning later. Somewhere in the Old West, two lowlifes are robbing and killing people on the trail. After one such raid they come across what appears to be an Indian burial ground, where they are attacked by unseen assailants. One of them is killed by an arrow, but the other, Purvis (David Arquette) manages to escape.
Days later Purvis shows up in the small town of Bright Hope, where his actions raise the suspicions of an old deputy named Chicory. The town’s no-nonsense sheriff, Franklin Hunt (Russell), shoots Purvis in the leg and throws him in jail.
A townie named Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) is at home with a broken leg, cared for by his wife, Samantha. With the town doctor drunk, Samantha is summoned to tend to Purvis’s wound under the watchful eye of a younger deputy named Nick.
Later that night a stable boy is murdered by an unseen attacker. During his investigation, Hunt finds the jail empty. An odd-looking arrow has been left behind. A local Indian identifies the arrow as belonging to a cave-dwelling (troglodyte) clan from a place he calls the Valley of the Starving Men. They had once been Native Americans but are now cannibalistic savages. Hunt believes that they have taken Nick, Samantha, and Purvis; he is determined to go after them.
VALLEY OF THE STARVING MEN
O’Dwyer, devastated by his wife’s abduction, accompanies Hunt, his broken leg be damned. Chicory and another townie named Brooder (Matthew Fox) also join Hunt. Tensions arise during the long ride, especially after Brooder kills two strangers who approach their camp at night. In turn they are soon attacked by a larger group, their horses stolen. Now on foot, the trek across rugged terrain is arduous, especially for O’Dwyer, who continues on despite his pain.
Brooder, an unapologetic womanizer, had hit on Samantha in the past, and O’Dwyer hates him for it. Before long the men are at each other’s throats, and as they fight, the pain in O’Dwyer’s leg is exacerbated. Chicory fixes the leg as best he can, and O’Dwyer is left behind.
Hunt, Chicory, and Brooder finally reach the valley, where they are attacked by the troglodytes. They kill two of them, but Brooder is seriously wounded and tells the lawmen to go on without him. He will ultimately kill one more troglodyte before finally succumbing.
Meanwhile, Hunt and Chicory are captured by the cannibals. They are imprisoned in one of the caves, where they find Samantha and a badly injured Nick. As for Purvis? Well, he’s already made a nice lunch for the savages…
Okay, I’ll stop here with the aforementioned warning: you’ll need a real strong stomach to view the rest of Bone Tomahawk, I kid you not. As one reviewer said, this weird, cross-genre story is not for everyone. But if you’re weary of the same old horror clichés and want something different, give this compelling film a try.