What follows next in the film’s first two-thirds is ostensibly a race against time and the unknown, expertly paced yet excruciatingly drawn out by Wilson’s character’s painful impediment — a broken leg sustained on the job before the film’s occurrences. Zahler’s use of both wide-angle and close up shots aided by beautiful natural lighting gives a great sense of the Western expansiveness, leaving the viewer with no choice but hobbling alongside Wilson and his compatriots, knowing they’re only inching closer to something horrible. They’ll face a number of obstacles along the way, but nothing quite as terrible as what they only vaguely know to be lurking in the distant cliffs.
And when we finally get there? Well, this is where things get decidedly queasier; a payoff that, while I believe to be generally earned, does little to calm viewers’ stomachs. Bone Tomahawk‘s violence is central to its existence, even if it’s hiding in plain site for the majority of the film. It’s a tough thing to witness when the brutality is finally front and center. The gore is equal to anything someone like Eli Roth has conceived, but where Roth’s films can find themselves devolving into live-action Itchy and Scratchy sequences, Zahler’s violence is brief but resonant. Audiences are left with a handful of the most horrific images I can remember seeing in recent movie memory, not an onslaught of bloodshed that gets lost in a sea of red Karo syrup.