Bone Tomahawk Blu-ray Review

Kurt Russell and Matthew Fox headline this savage Western of cowboys and Indians.

Four doomed men take on a suicide mission to save a kidnapped woman from savage Indians in Bone Tomahawk. Kurt Russell and Matthew Fox head this new Western with an all-star cast. Kurt Russell returns to Westerns after his memorable turn in Tombstone nearly two decades ago. He also happens to be starring in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight at the same time.

First-time director S. Craig Zahler, previously a screenwriter and cinematographer, takes his own script and puts his own spin on the Western. Fusing a few horror elements into the standard Western formula makes Bone Tomahawk an imaginative, well-done movie with a superb cast.

Kurt Russell is the sheriff of Bright Hope, a small outpost in the dusty Old West. Sheriff Franklin Hunt is an honorable man that gets in over his head when Indians kidnap a few locals along with a criminal that had wandered into town. Actor Patrick Wilson’s Arthur O’Dwyer is a rancher that has broken his leg and laid up in bed. When Mrs. O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) and others are abducted by a mysterious group of raiders, the two men set off to rescue them with Sheriff Hunt’s backup deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and Brooder (Matthew Fox), a merciless Indian killer. Broken leg and all, the four men venture together into uncharted territory to rescue Arthur’s wife.

I would say that Zahler the director fell in love too much with Zahler the writer.

The spice in Bone Tomahawk that prevents it from becoming another tired genre exercise are its unique group of Indian antagonists. Cursed by the other local Indian tribes, the Troglodytes are a fearsome tribe of cannibals that live in caves. Covered in white chalk and employing jagged bone weapons, the Troglodytes are an intimidating, savage opponent. The movie does have one of the most vicious, graphic deaths I’ve seen in film. While some of the horror elements are derivative of The Hills Have Eyes and other terrorizing clans of inbred cannibals, making them Indians is refreshingly original in a Western genre not known for its storytelling creativity.

Bone Tomahawk should prove popular for those looking for a ruthless tale of survival and rescue. In that regard it’s a throwback tale of the Old West. The entire cast gives fine performances, particularly Patrick Wilson and Kurt Russell. Richard Jenkins adds a lightly comic undertone to the movie with his elderly deputy character but some of his rambling scenes should have been trimmed. The first-time director could have done wonders for his movie if he had shaved twenty minutes. Narrative is unnecessarily padded with scenery chewing.

Western fans will enjoy the ride but others may find problems with its pacing. Playing armchair director, I would say that Zahler the director fell in love too much with Zahler the writer. A few scenes could have been cut short or trimmed, which would have made Bone Tomahawk considerably tighter and gripping.

There is still so much to like about the film that it succeeds in spite of the methodical pacing. Cannibal Indians is a unique idea I haven’t seen explored much before in a PC Hollywood. Bone Tomahawk doesn’t flinch from being a graphic, bloody Western with good guys and bad guys. Come for the violent cannibals, stay for its rich character development portrayed by a veteran cast.

Movie ★★★★☆

Bone Tomahwak Blu-ray screen shot 13

Image Entertainment provides a nice presentation for Bone Tomahawk. Filmed with RED digital cameras, the 1080P video has fairly strong definition in sharp detail. The 132-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-50. The AVC encode averages a satisfactory 21 Mbps, which is sufficient for the cleanly-shot film. There is some minor banding. A muted color palette adds a touch of amber to the Western, skillfully done for the period piece. It is presented in a scenic 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

The independent production looks rather average in darker shots with uneven black levels being a problem. There isn’t crushing per se but minor macroblocking and noisy exposure problems can be seen in the dimmest scenes. Hints of aliasing creep into a few moments. This is not absolutely perfect, pristine digital cinematography seen on the biggest Hollywood productions. It’s sharp, mostly flawless resolution with solid detail and fine contrast.

Nothing indicates the Blu-ray transfer isn’t a perfect representation of the movie’s digital intermediate. Image does a solid job handling the transfer without filtering or harming the picture.

Video ★★★★☆

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack comes alive when necessary but this isn’t the most active mix to begin with. The Western is quiet with few musical cues and driven by dialogue. It does feature a discrete surround mix in the heroes’ confrontations with Indians, highlighting excellent panning and rear placement.

Bass and LFE are fine in the bigger action scenes. This is fairly typical audio quality for a new production with perfect fidelity in well-balanced audio design. Intelligible dialogue in a well-mastered audio mix works perfectly fine within the confines of Bone Tomahawk as a movie.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles display in a white font, remaining inside the scope aspect ratio at all times.

Audio ★★★☆☆

The stars in the cast must have really believed in this project. It’s rare to see major film actors appear in supplements for a movie that is basically going straight to video. The Q&A session with the director and cast is enjoyable and a pleasant discussion, though Russell is MIA in that supplement. A slipcover is available.

Fantastic Fest Q&A (34:40 in HD) – A lively discussion with S. Craig Zahler, Matthew Fox, Patrick Wilson and Richard Jenkins, among others. Zahler explains how he came to make a Western after being a Hollywood screenwriter that never saw his scripts getting made.

The Making of Bone Tomahawk (10:04 in HD) – Director S. Craig Zahler and the cast’s stars discuss their involvement on the film. For what it’s worth, stars like Kurt Russell and Matthew Fox seem heavily invested in their roles and this film from the clips we see in this featurette. Some behind-the-scenes footage from set is also shown.

Deleted Scene (02:30 in HD) – This scene is interesting in that it would have worked as an epilogue of sorts. I can see why it was removed but could have easily made the final cut.

Poster Gallery

Theatrical Trailer (02:37 in HD)

Image Entertainment Trailers – Dark Was the Night (01:51 in HD), Pay The Ghost (02:20 in HD) and Odd Thomas (02:29 in HD) all play before the main menu. Image must love Odd Thomas, the movie has been out for a few years now.

Extras ★★★☆☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

[display_rating_form]
[display_rating_result]

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

  • Person

    Great movie but couldn’t help noticing not just the banding, but also some pretty rampant noise from time to time, and some odd macroblocking during the sequence when Russell and his deputies stand outside the door of the horse stable about a half-hour into the film (watch the smoke and blackness in the door). Not familiar with RLJ Entertainment, so I dunno if this is how their discs usually are. Audio and extras are fine, though, especially for such a low-budget release.