Bone Tomahawk (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
An interesting hybrid of western and horror, “Bone Tomahawk” is a work that requires a whole lot of patience, a pinch of rumination, and a healthy dose appreciation for the small but calculated elements dispersed throughout its one-hundred-thirty-minute running time. Those craving for a film that is willing and unafraid to take risks are likely to welcome what it offers.
Notice how it takes its time. It is almost an hour into the picture when the plot is finally propelled to the forward direction and so for a while it makes us wonder where the story is supposed to go. We are given possibilities. Because the picture is a western, we expect a typical clash between the Indians and the white men. Instead, the material consistently strives to deliver more than what is expected. In some ways, it reminded me of a classic literature—the manner in which writer-director S. Craig Zahler lays the foundation so meticulously that payoffs are highly likely to prove fruitful. (And they do.)
The plot involves a rescue mission spearheaded by Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell). He is accompanied by a “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), an educated man (Matthew Fox), a cripple (Patrick Wilson) whose wife is abducted. But the journey is not what the film is about. It is about the discovery of who these men are while facing their mortality. We learn of their pasts, their fears, their hopes, who they loved, and what they wish to accomplish once the rescue is over. Not all of them will see the end of the rescue.
The dialogue has color. Although a western and the words uttered are western-like, the attitude and the flavor of the various deliveries command a certain ironic-lite anachronism. Comedic exchanges tend to sprout out of nowhere and they are even bittersweet at times. It almost gives the impression that these men are aware, or have accepted the possibility, that they are walking toward certain death. Are they driven by revenge, honor, duty, curiosity? As the travelers push themselves to exhaustion, they open up, and eventually we are able to gauge their sense of morality and hypothesize what really made them choose to partake in this rescue mission. Perhaps they feel a need to rescue themselves.
Beautifully shot and well-acted, one can make a case that “Bone Tomahawk” is a case study of the male ego and what is expected of masculinity. Note that the women characters stay in the home, they are healers—even the female cave dwellers are blinded, crippled, their main function to get impregnated and deliver new life successfully. Most importantly, however, the film is an entertaining, highly watchable experiment that delivers potent thrills.
★★ / ★★★★
Nine years have passed since the outbreak of a virus that turns humans into rabid killers. Healthy humans have gone into hiding with little to no communication even with those only a few miles away. Some have assumed they are the only people left, including nine-year-old Lu (Quinn McColgan) who is restricted by her guardian, Jack (Jeffrey Donovan), from stepping foot outside the house. Soon, however, Lu begins to have portentous nightmares about monsters and she begins to come across evidence that the infected creatures have found them.
Although “Extinction,” written by Alberto Marini and Miguel Ángel Vivas, does not particularly offer game-changing elements into the zombie universe, it offers enough rising action, suspense, and thrills to hold its own. Interestingly, it chooses to hone its dramatic core at times—which involves a complicated relationship among two neighbors, Jack and Patrick (Matthew Fox)—over delivering violence and attempting scares.
This approach works because we gain an understanding of the characters and how they live their daily lives. Inside their homes, we come to appreciate the loneliness and isolation of the characters. Lu learns how to add and multiply, about cultures outside her own, and about how the world was like prior to the outbreak. But underneath it all there is a hint of sadness because she has never had—and maybe never will have—the chance to apply the information she has acquired from books onto real life.
Outside supposedly safe walls, there is seemingly endless snow fall and very few signs of life. When we do see an animal, it is killed for food. Meat is scarce. Lu admires her next-door neighbor for having the chance to go outside, visit the town, and carry meat as he heads back inside. Lu feels a strange gravitation toward Patrick—which is one of the picture’s main weaknesses because the answer is predictable and tired. The writers appear to make only a superficial attempt to make the relationship more interesting or more complex. This is especially problematic because a significant part of the human drama in this story involves these two.
The creatures look appropriately menacing—occasionally impressive—under proper lighting. The trips to town stand out because there is constant threat that the characters will cross paths with them. There is a fascinating line or two about the monsters having such a fast rate of evolution. While humans have evolved over a span of millions of years, these things have changed in only nine. The details regarding which traits they have gained and lost in order to survive are believable which adds to the horror. The implication is that if these creatures were able to undergo extensive evolution in merely under a decade, what could happen to humans in fifty or a hundred years?
Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas and based on a novel by Juan de Dios Garduño, “Extinction,” also known as “Welcome to Harmony,” is purposeful in its slow pacing and atmospheric details which sets it apart from the subpar and terrible zombie flicks. It offers a few moments of creativity, particularly the weakness of the zombies. Still, it could have benefited from offering a bit more excitement and a few more creative choices with respect to the relationships among its lonely and disconnected characters.