Benedict Cumberbatch is regal and downright terrifying as a huntsman on a quest to rescue a single horse from the clutches of the fiendish Indians. But while by turns gallant and menacing, he’s also, in his darkest moments, heartbreakingly human.
The only part of the film that feels generic is the script, which lingers on a climax that would have made a second act amid the Missouri wheat fields of 1876 feel like a happy sand-sculpture. Yet director Ben Wheatley expertly makes up for the clutter. Wheatley is the king of slow-burn westerns, and this one will last your patience.
The names of many actors playing figures like Bruce Campbell, Billy Campbell and Stephen Lang do not sound familiar, which I suppose gives them a certain amount of vulnerability. Apart from those not known by name, the actors really shine. Wheatley assembles a top team of actors and one of them – Brenton Thwaites – gets the most rewarding role. The man is limber and sexy and fully aware of his tragedy, and succeeds in making it literally real.
I suppose the title of this film applies to almost everything (except, perhaps, the season), because it is just as much about the tension between humans and their beastly ancestors as it is about this hunt, the raising of a child, an agonising chase through muddy treetops, and a revealing of some uncomfortable truths about the evils of the east. It is, frankly, a helluva good film.