Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Fantastic Fest winds down with Kurt Russell cannibal Western Bone Tomahawk

Illustration for article titled Fantastic Fest winds down with Kurt Russell cannibal Western Bone Tomahawk

Well, it’s over. The Shaw Brothers mural has been taken down, the donkey has been returned to its owners—more on that later—and the last remnants of Fantastic Fest are trudging to the airport, dreaming of their own beds. The last day of the festival was mostly composed of encore screenings, including a second showing of Darling, which I caught again and has been picked up for distribution by Screen Media, so you can see it early next year.


Earlier in the day, I also saw the second screening of Man Vs. Snake (B-), an upbeat documentary on unfortunately named video-game champion Tim McVay and his multiple attempts to break his own billion-point record on the obscure arcade game Nibbler. The King Of Kong baddie Billy Mitchell shows up here as a friend and cheerleader, and considering modest Iowa machinist McVay’s greatest adversary appears to be himself, sometimes Man Vs. Snake has to contort itself into some pretty elaborate shapes in its attempts to create dramatic tension. But the filmmaking—which includes some Rick And Morty-esque animation sequences—is cheerful and the subjects good-natured, making it an enjoyable, if inconsequential, celebration of nerd-dom. The Boy And The Beast (B) was similarly uplifting, utilizing beautiful animation and a sort of Spirited Away-meets-Karate Kid storyline to teach a gentle lesson about the true nature of strength. Director Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars) continues to grow as an animator, and this film will only add credence to the argument that Hosoda is poised to replace Hayao Miyazaki as the new grandmaster of Japanese animation.

The closing-night film, Bone Tomahawk (B-), however, did not share that same good nature. A puzzling blend of talky, character-driven Western drama and sickeningly realistic cannibal horror, Bone Tomahawk explicitly nods to The Searchers as a group of frontiersmen, including small-town sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell), his drunken deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), Arthur (Patrick Wilson), a cowboy sidelined by a leg injury, and dapper gunslinger Brooder (Matthew Fox) go in search of a prisoner, a guard, and Arthur’s wife after they go missing from the jail late one night. Turns out they’re in the clutches of a band of “troglodytes,” mute savages straight out of an Italian cannibal movie who the movie takes great pains to emphasize are not representative of all Native Americans. Writer-director S. Craig Zahler infuses his script with both stiff period formalism and black comedy, another odd combination that sometimes works—Jenkins in particular has a knack for the dialogue—and sometimes just confounds. The centerpiece of the film is a cannibal scene so brutally violent it would be surprising if Bone Tomahawk, currently unrated, makes it through the MPAA system as is. But in his quest for realism, Zahler also sometimes sacrifices enjoyment, a choice also reflected in the slow pacing and surprisingly flat cinematography.

(Fantastic Fest may be over, but The A.V. Club’s coverage will continue with a wrapup of the closing night party—complete with free tattoos and the aforementioned donkey—and coverage of screener titles from the fest.)