"Place of Bones" (2023) [Another Hole in the Head Film Festival]

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s neo-western, Place of Bones by Audrey Cummings.

In 1876 a mother and daughter, alone on a remote ranch, fight for survival against a gang of ruthless outlaws.

The Good
Joseph: It’s not easy to escape the clichés of western movies — such as the inevitable gang of outlaws, the protagonists trying to save what little is theirs, the mysterious stranger — so what I look for in modern westerns are the genre-blending twists that filmmakers come up with. Bone Tomahawk comes immediately to mind, and while director Audrey Cummings’ Place of Bones may not boast the star power, dialogue, and violent shocks of Bone Tomahawk, it does serve up a hybrid feature that genre-film fans should find highly appealing. This is Heather Graham’s third horror or horror-adjacent film in recent months, following the wild Suitable Flesh and Oracle (which I haven’t seen yet), and she is doing a bang-up job in genre movies this year. Here Graham does solid work as Pandora, the widowed single mother of Hester (Brielle Robillard, who also turns in a nice performance). The two women are trying to eke out an existence 95 miles from the nearest town, surviving on whatever food The Lord provides these two Christians. Cummings (She Never Died, 2019), working from a screenplay by Richard Taylor, drops hints from early on that the mother and daughter know how to not only take care of themselves but survive on their property, and a second viewing (which I haven’t had time for yet, but plan to) will likely reveal even more about the wallop that the third act packs when an outlaw gang lays siege to the women’s homestead, intent on getting the money with which fellow member Calhoun (Corin Nemec) — who, injured by a gunshot, is recuperating in the home — has absconded.

Mike: There’s not a whole lot of positive to say about this other than it has a third act and a reveal that absolutely saved this for me.  

The Bad
Joseph: As I mentioned above, the western clichés are on full display, and Place of Bones is something of a slow burn before building toward its suspenseful third act. A slow burn is not a bad thing in my book, but the infighting between the gang members makes for far less interesting drama than what is going on inside the homestead between Pandora, Hester, and Calhoun.

Mike: The first act plods along like Gene Autry ambling across the prairie crooning a tune.  The second act picks up the pace a wee bit once we’re actually introduced to the gang of bad guys and we see them do stereotypical western movie bad guy stuff like threaten prostitutes and threaten to shoot one another over things like calling a brother of another gang member a dumba$$. Of course “picks up the pace a wee bit” means the film’s speedometer goes from 10 mph to maybe 15, so be prepared to maybe have a craft on hand that you can work on for the first hour or so.
The acting is all mediocre at best, including that of the stars which was a bit of a surprise for me, especially considering how Graham always seems to turn in a good performance.  It was hard to take Corin Nemec’s “Calhoun” seriously with the way he delivers his lines which seemed to be way over the top and full of ham. 
Did I mention the pace of the movie is horrendous?

The Verdict
Joseph: Place of Bones rewards patient viewers — and perhaps especially those who clue in to its trail of breadcrumbs — with a satisfying, surprising genre-bender. Avoid any spoilers, go in as fresh as possible, and you should find the film well worth a watch.

Mike:  With a very boring and plodding first couple of acts, it seems like a chore to make it through Place of Bones without getting bored and turning it off.  The cliche elements and parade of western movie tropes doesn’t help at all, and the acting is surprisingly nowhere near what you’d expect from a couple of the names here (I’m looking scornfully at you, Heather Graham!), so you’ve really got a flurry of strikes against the film.
If, however, you can make it to the third act, you’ll be treated to some action and your patience will be paid off by one of the best third act reveals I’ve seen in some time.

Place of Bones
, from Latigo Films and Goldrush Entertainment, screens as part of Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, which takes place December 1–25, 2023, in person in San Francisco and On Demand on Eventive and live on Zoom for those who cannot attend the live screenings. For more information, visit https://www.ahith.com/.

Place of Bones
Directed By: Audrey Cummings
Written By: Richard Taylor
Starring: Heather Graham, Tom Hopper, Corin Nemec
Run Time: 1h 32m
Rating: NR
Release Date: December 5, 2023

There was no trailer available at the time of our publication of the review