Directed by Steven Craig Zahler, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is a 2015 Western horror starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, and more. The heart of the story beats right in the middle of Bright Hope. Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) rallies a motley crew for a daring rescue mission to save the townsfolks who have been abducted by the Troglodytes tribe.
However, what sets ‘Bone Tomahawk’ apart from the herd is its devotion to characters. It’s not just a wild chase or a showdown; it’s a journey into the souls of these complex, wonderfully flawed individuals. Each member of the rescue party isn’t just a cardboard cutout; they’re a bundle of quirks and complexities that you can’t help but get invested in. If the film’s well-written character and the depiction of the Wild West make you wonder whether the story of ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is rooted in reality, let us lay down the facts.
Is Bone Tomahawk a True Story?
No, Bone Tomahawk is not based on a true story. It comes straight from the brilliantly and creative mind of writer-director Steven Craig Zahler, an author-turned-filmmaker. The movie takes the Western genre on a wild, modern-day ride, complete with a hefty dose of brutality and a dash of horror. It’s similar to the Westerns we know, but with a twist that’ll leave the audience hanging onto their hat in the best way possible. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ doesn’t just trot along the dusty trail of traditional Westerns. Instead, it veers right into the heart of primal fear and survival. The brave characters in the film, pushed to the absolute brink, are up against deadly threats and nightmare-inducing scenarios.
We watch them grapple with these life-or-death situations and can’t help but feel their fear, their desperation, their sheer determination to survive. It’s this primal, gut-wrenching struggle that cranks up the horror to spine-tingling levels. You’re right there with them, in the thick of it all, rooting for their survival as if it were your own. Craig, when asked how he got the inspiration for this Western horror, stated during an interview that he had always been a fan of Western films. ‘Bone Tomahawk’ marked his fifth venture into the Western genre. The inspiration for this project came from his book titled “Wraiths of the Broken Land,” a gritty Western set in a similar time period.
Frustrated by the fact that he had sold about 20 screenplays in Hollywood without seeing any of them come to fruition, Craig decided it was time to try his hand at directing. His background as a cinematographer and theater director made this transition a logical step. While initially considering a horror-themed project, his producer, Dallas Sonnier, and his agent at UTA, Julien Thuan, encouraged him to tackle a Western. Craig continued, “I prefer writing westerns over horror, and they’d asked if I could do Wraiths of a Broken Land as a low-budget movie.”
The filmmaker added, “For me, taking something that’s ninety thousand words or so and crushing it into the length of a movie wouldn’t be that creatively fulfilling in that I would have to strip away so much stuff that even a great movie version of it would always feel smaller than the book. So I said, “Instead of that, let me write another rescue mission western, but I’d like to play with some different stuff—in particular, making up my own tribe,” “And that comes a little bit more from the disciplines of lost race fiction, like H. Rider Haggard kind of stuff, really, than from westerns. So that was the inception. There was certainly no movie that I was trying to emulate.”
When asked why he got involved with the project, Kurt Russell, the actor playing the role of Sheriff Franklin Hunt, said that he found Zahler’s sparse and distinctive writing style particularly appealing, viewing it as an exceptional opportunity for a film project. Some have classified ‘Bone Tomahawk’ as a horror Western, while Russell thinks it’s more accurately classified as a gory Western. Russell acknowledged how the film started quietly and skillfully built tension, culminating in a dramatic climax that thrusts the audience into the characters’ grim reality.
Russell was especially taken away by how the characters embodied the men of a different era confronting an unfamiliar and perilous situation, highlighting the evolving concept of masculinity over time. He saw the challenge in bringing these characters to life and believed the script offered a strong narrative. Despite the budget limitations, he had faith in the project, considering it a unique and intriguing story. His personal identification with his character further fueled his commitment to the film. Russell stated, “So I think that killing at the end puts the audience in their shoes; you’re staring a horrible death straight in the face. But they sort of knew this was possible, but they went anyway.”
Russell continued, “So I liked the way Craig presented that on paper, and I thought it would be a real interesting challenge. Of course, with these movies that have no money, you gotta shoot them fast, but I looked at that and thought there were ways to make this movie without much money, and I just wanted to see it be made. It was just one of those movies that I just thought I would like to see this movie be made; I’d like to play that character; I understood it. And so I was drawn to the way he wrote it, and it happened to be a Western.”
Patrick Wilson, known for his roles in horror movies like ‘Insidious‘ acknowledged that ‘Bone Tomahawk’ was indeed his goriest project. Patrick portrays the role of Arthur O’Dwyer in the movie and is also part of the tight-knit team to rescue the townsfolks. In an interview with Roger Ebert, Partick commented, “I think you’re right. I would say this probably is; it has the goriest scenes. But whether or not a couple of gory scenes were in the movie, they define how bold the movie wants to be. I was just looking for a western to do. But when this script came to me, I came on pretty late. The fact that Kurt [Russell] and Richard [Jenkins] and Matthew [Fox] were already involved—it was pretty easy to get on the horse next to Wyatt Earp [laughs].”
Taking everything into account, it’s crystal clear that the 2015 movie doesn’t have its roots in real-life events; it’s a work of fiction. This movie isn’t your run-of-the-mill Western-horror flick either, but a tour de force that delves deep into the Western genre, sprinkling horror elements that aren’t your typical jump scares or paranormal hocus-pocus. The horror here is raw, visceral, and unsettling, mirroring the dark truths of the human condition and the unforgiving reality of the Wild Wild West. But what makes ‘Bone Tomahawk’ truly shine is its remarkable ability to seamlessly blend these elements with rich character-driven storytelling.