Published: 19 February, 2016
by DAN CARRIER
Tasting of grits and corn chowder, smelling of saddle sweat, worn leather, chewing tobacco and whisky, sounding like firepits, gun shots and hooves in the dust, it is heady stuff, with a perfect cast drawling their lines out in front of a near perfect Old American backdrop.
Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is the lawman in the small town of Bright Hope. He has little to do, which is lucky as his only back up is the border line senile deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins).
The opening scene introduces two desert-traversing brigands who sneak up on sleeping travellers, slit their throats and rob them of their goods.
But when this unpleasant duo are disturbed during one such murderous robbery, they take off into the scrub – and stumble across a tribe of people whose behaviour is far, far more horrific than anything they could ever have imagined.
Meanwhile, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) is a cowboy held back from heading out on the trail due to the fact he broke his leg after trying to fix the roof of his house during a storm. His wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) had warned him it was dangerous up there and is now playing nurse. The pair are enjoying having some enforced time together. Things develop when Samantha is called to the town gaol to remove a bullet from the leg of one of the throat-slashing men we have met moments earlier getting up to no good.
His appearance in Bright Hope has disastrous results for Samantha – and sends the sheriff, Chicory, town tough guy Brooder (Matthew Fox) and Arthur on a rescue mission that doesn’t pan out in the usual heroic manner.
There are so many bases this film manages to cover that you could be forgiven for thinking the writer had a tick list.
There are grizzled gunslinging characters from the great Western tradition who ride through beautiful vistas. Each scene includes brilliant repartee – it reminds of early Tarantino scripts. There is some truly horrific situations that will make your blood run cold – and there is a romantic and straightforwardly traditional damsel in distress, needing to be rescued by heroic types with six shooters ready to be pulled from holsters.
Director and writer Zahler said the idea came to him after writing 21 film scripts, all optioned, but none making the screen. He decided to write a horror and pay for it himself – but his agent knew he had written three novels that were westerns and persuaded him to a screenplay in that genre.
How lucky we are he followed this sage advice. This is a mixture of both: all the attributes of a great western are there, but the premise is pure horror.
Take your shoes off to watch this – some moments are so toe-curlingly horrible, you’ll want the space to scrunch up your digits.