Tuesday, 12 January 2016

REVIEW - BONE TOMAHAWK (S. CRAIG ZAHLER)


Independent filmmaking as an arena for subtle showmanship, an acute display of ability that's not hindered by budget limitations, but augmented by them. Bone Tomahawk is established upon an artistically and morally risible premise, and proceeds much as one expects from there, in basic terms. And yet, S. Craig Zahler's debut film - what an accomplished, assertive debut this is - manages to transcend its shortcomings, almost to nullify that which appears so risible, in its remarkable grasp of technique and unusual wealth of respect. Unusual, because Bone Tomahawk is a genre film, and an unapologetic one too; as a genre film, it's considerably above-average in quality, principally due to Zahler's unconventional use of genre tropes. Focus on character in the first two acts extends into the third, but while essential to the experience, it's perhaps less remarkable on a formal level than the other twists on tradition - Zahler continually toys with expectation, suggesting this or that element of Western or horror filmmaking, before turning another direction entirely. His red herring approach is openly manipulative, but indubitably effective; better, and less blatant, is his reconfiguration of stylistic standards, evident in the modesty of the production - intimacy with the landscape as opposed to awe of it, rich character detail favoured over easy brutality, all to make Bone Tomahawk a more palatable, believable film. Zahler's dedication to character yields dividends as it begins to dwindle, its effects ringing through in the ensemble's keen, perceptive work. And the film's technical strength increases in its place, the artful, expressive blocking of particular note. Who'd have thought a film about straight white men could be so winning? Underlying, if unexplored, respect for women and POC gives Bone Tomahawk a more savoury tone, and thus helps you to care for these straight white men. That's this film's most invaluable asset: you care for it.