Movie Review – ‘Bone Tomahawk’


[Minor Spoilers Ahead]

S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk offers a glimpse of the direction American Westerns may have taken if they had bypassed the Revisionist sub-genre and taken all of its cues from Spaghetti Westerns. Equal parts technically brilliant and racially repugnant, Bone Tomahawk offers up the very worst of the Western genre’s xenophobia in a brutal package. In short, the film follows a posse on the hunt for a group of “troglodyte” Native Americans responsible for several murders and the kidnapping of one of the men’s wife. Led by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), their journey into a hellish wasteland of atavistic brutality literalizes one of the Western genre’s main themes—the struggle between wilderness and civilization with the dashing, brave white men on one side and the cannibalistic “godless heathens” on the other. For a time, I legitimately thought that Zahler was building up to a major reveal that the “troglodytes” weren’t actually Native Americans at all but displaced white settlers cut off from a wagon train: the one “civilized” Native American in the film glowered “they aren’t really Indians” when approached for information about them; they cover their entire bodies with white make-up; they had advanced surgical techniques capable of implanting rudimentary mechanical devices into their throats which literally let them howl like wounded, rabid animals.

But alas, the “troglodytes” were in fact Native Americans, their eventual slaughter and destruction justified by their primitive behaviors (the less said about the scene where Sheriff Hunt tricks three of them into poisoning themselves with opium-laced whiskey, the better). If Bone Tomahawk had straightened out its racial politics I would have eagerly recommended it as a stark, effective piece of filmmaking. For his directorial debut, Zahler proves himself a capable controller of tone and mood, keeping things silent and still when lesser filmmakers would have amped up the drama with music or unnecessary effects. Most of the violence happens so fast it’s usually over before you notice it. If it hadn’t been for a bizarrely out-of-place scene where the “troglodytes” scalp, butcher, and disembowel a screaming prisoner, I would point out that the most violent moment in the movie takes place offscreen where a man has his shattered, infected leg set with a hammer. Zahler isn’t interested in thrilling you, he’s interested in disturbing and unsettling you. Tragically, with Bone Tomahawk he succeeded, but for the wrong reasons.


Nathanael Hood is a 27 year old film critic currently based out of South Florida with a passion for all things cinematic. He graduated from New York University - Tisch with a degree in Film Studies. He is currently a writer for the Turkish Journal of American Studies,, and his personal film blog You can contact him via email at Follow him on Twitter: @natehood257 and Tumblr:
  • hannstv .

    Maybe one could check his moral superiority at the door and just enjoy a movie. There will be plenty of racial battles to be fought tomorrow.

    • Nathanael Hood

      Actually, the depiction of Native Americans in the Western genre is a racial battle that has been going on for literally over a century. The depiction of Native Americans as blood-thirsty, half-human savages has been one of the main sources of their continued dehumanization and legal disenfranchisement. It’s 2015. There’s literally no reason why filmmakers SHOULDN’T be held accountable for racist depictions of Native Americans in modern cinema.

      • hannstv .

        “lighten up Francis”…’s a movie not a documentary. Looks like I am one of the few to read your review and the only one dumb enough to reply……promise it won’t happen again.

        • Nathanael Hood

          You know what? I hope you enjoy it. I really do.

        • Nathanael Hood

          You know what? I hope you enjoy it. I really do.

          • Glorious_Cause

            According to leftists, only white people are allowed to be villains in movies.

            “For a time, I legitimately thought that Zahler was building up to a major reveal that the “troglodytes” weren’t actually Native Americans at all but displaced white settlers cut off from a wagon train”

            What absurdity. Leftism and political correctness truly does rot the mind.

          • Sybnios

            Only ignorance rots the mind. I don’t know what kind of leftism you have in the US but from what you say it seems an unhealthy one. The only leftism should be considered a communist party. But then again communism in the land of capitalism is considered what Christians think of Satanism. That much brain washing you get over there. Here in Greece the position of the only communist party is the most humane and proper way in a political view to treat every human and have a prosper society. But then again if every individual only wants to step on another one just to live a shallow materialistic life and the most luxurious they can while millions of people work for just their rent and food then as I said in the beginning only ignorance rots the mind and soul. The whole foundation of our society and system is just wrong! Forget communism, every philosopher and spiritual person stood against our society. That much says something…

  • ttyler5

    Hood, you’re a Politically Correct know-nothing. American Indians were and still are among the most racist people on the continent. And of you think they hated the white man, you should discover how much they hated each other.

  • stabface

    You are also missing one of the more clear ideas which is that they “weren’t really Indians.” You alluded to it, but you didn’t get it right. They didn’t have “advanced surgical techniques” they had bizarre birth defects from generations of inbreeding. When Patrick Wilson pulls out the whistling bone from the neck of one of the deadtroglodytes he said, “this isn’t jewelry.” The whole point of the “civilized” Native American’s speech is to make it clear these aren’t peers of Sitting Bull, they are monsters other Native Americans fear.

  • Maventii

    Oh for heaven’s sake. The movie LITERALLY pauses every 20 minutes our so to remind us that racism and bigotry are wrong, and yet that still wasn’t enough for this reviewer?

  • jennifer

    I’d really like to commend you for this articulate article. Thank you.

    • Nathanael Hood

      Thank you for your kindness!

  • desalis

    Finally a film that isn’t timid when it comes to dangerously tip-toeing the plank of political correctness. The film was an exploration of fear and survival. While I agree that the whole ‘troglodyte’ thing was a pretty half-assed attempt to cover the fact that the film revolved around Native Americans, the film was an exploration of extreme fear, and one of the biggest fears of white colonists was the Native American. While I also agree that there is no place in modern society for prejudice or racism, this isn’t a film set in 2015, it’s set in the 1800’s, set around the fears of white 1800’s society and basically it needed a bad guy to play the set of main characters fears. I can understand how dehumanising the troglodytes worked to play on the fear of the unfamiliar, but I can also understand that doing so to a group ‘based’ on a race that is a modern day minority is going to cop some flak. It was however a relief to see a film that broke free from the repeatitive confines of over-political correctness.

    • jose

      This is funny. This film does not transgress anything. It didn’t break free.

      If this film had any intention of not being PC, the indians would be indians in the old Hollywood western tradition, not orcs or “troglodytes” (lol). The woman would have been blinded and mutilated immediately and tossed with the other women instead of sitting there perfectly unharmed.

      A story in which the good guys kill the bad guys and rescue the damsel is certainly not transgressive. It even finishes with a kiss, for heaven’s sake.

  • AntiWhiteKnight

    LOL – what a PC pussy this reviewer is. The tribe was an abomination, as offensive to Native Americans as they were to the evil, white, Christians. They literally spell this out, dipshit. Also, guess what? Many tribes of Indians, in real life…wait for it…

    Butchered people like this. Shocking, I know. Comanches believed that the more you desecrated and tore someone apart, the more that pain and horror would reverberate though the victim’s tribe, and lessen them.

    You’re the worst kind of pussy, man. Always siding with the minority, with what you perceive as the victim of whitey because you think it makes you seem modern, but you utterly disregard reality in your quest to come off “down”, desperate for acceptance and love from minorities. How bad do you wish you had a native american friend to parade around at parties, to show everyone how enlightened and “cool” you are.

    Christ…your white knight routine with women must be beyond embarrassing.

  • PH54

    True to the genre….white people are superior beings that hunt and destroy the godless uncivilized–at what cost to the human condition? The audience desensitization to this type of brutality and overt depiction of nonwhite as savage, bestial, less than human in the 21st century is deeply saddening.

  • David Kosmak

    As much as I want to love the movie (for many reasons: the cast, the genre, the brief moments of exploitative gore), I have to agree completely with your analysis here. I was also waiting for some of “reveal” that the “Trogs” weren’t Indians, but despite the perfunctory “these aren’t Indians” speech given by the token Indian, they are repeatedly referred to BY the protagonists as “Indians” throughout the rest of the movie. Furthermore, the Trog actors were all Natives or other POC, which further cements the fact that the filmmakers were thinking of these people as non-White as well as Savage and Other.

    You’re 100% right: the racial politics here are abhorrent, truthfully. Will numerous POC characters are introduced in a tokenizing fashion (historically accurate, to be sure), none of them are more than one-dimensional cameo roles. While PRESUMABLY these people are not the butt or victims of racial prejudice or violence by Bright Hope’s populace at large (Brooder’s bigotry aside, although that itself is practically “validated” by his “emotional” justification of racism because Indians killed his mother and sisters, okay lolll?), all of the POC characters are either killed after less than a minute of screen time or dismissed and not seen again after uttering one or two lines.

    This movie unquestionably carries on the long-standing tradition that you correctly highlight of civilized brave sympathetic White male heroes vs. indigenous godless uncivilized savages (seen in nearly all Hollywood Western films and TV shows and long before that in English colonialist literature, etc.) While the film offers repeated yet perfunctory and shallow justifications by the characters on-screen for why it’s actually not racist, it comes off more like that person you know who starts off a sentence with “I’m not racist but….”

    Technically and cinematically proficient, well-scripted and directed, I love the great mix of slow-burn Western survival + exploitation gore/horror (reminds me in a lot of ways of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, another work of similar style which also enjoys high accolades while receiving critiques of racism and xenophobia). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the movie for many reasons, but I’d also be lying if I said if I could recommend it to anyone with a clear conscience.

    I heartily believe it’s quite possible to like or enjoy problematic things (hell, the vast majority of mainstream media are problematic and full of various biases or ignorance) and I don’t believe the filmmakers nor actors are intentionally racist or hateful toward Natives. Nevertheless, it would really be nice to be surprised one day by a film or story which reverses these type of racist tropes and actually gives Natives and POC the opportunity to represent characters that are complex and empathetic and not merely props to represent fear and wildness.

    • David Kosmak

      Also: LOL, the comments, as always.

      • Nathanael Hood

        Hey David. Sorry I didn’t respond to your comments earlier. I stopped paying attention to the comments on this article shortly after I published it. But I want to thank you for your civility. I agree with you: I really, really, REALLY wanted to like this movie more. If the Natives had been crazed white settlers I might have called it the best horror film of the year.

  • Nick

    Is it possible for the younger generation to chill out? The only salient point Nathan can bring to bear is the racial injustice of this movie. Never mind that every race has its own bad seeds that are not representative of the whole, as the Professor character was supposed to have spelled out for us. Despite the films best, and successful, efforts to bring us a traditional good guy vs bad guy story, making clear that the bad guys were not the norm of native Americans, Nathan can only see what his very thin skin and knee jerk reactions allow him to see.

  • Nick

    As far as racial politics go, why would it be okay to reveal the Trogs as really white men? Are you saying there were not really some bad Indians too? That is naive in the extreme. No race is innocent, none are unassailable, neither are any all bad. But for some reason, you think the white man is an acceptable target for all things bad. Really? How is this reflected in reality?

    It’s a movie. And it was responsible, as horror movies go. Relax, have a Coke and a smile, and zip it, to paraphrase Richard Pryor.

  • Howard Blasczyk

    I am not normally someone who comments on movie reviews, don’t think I have ever. I actually stumbled across this looking to educate myself more on troglodytes after watching this movie. However, I have to agree with most of the comments. Nathaniel, you are the embodiment of what makes most movie critics a joke with your out of place PC bull. It is so hard to find a decent, entertaining movie to rent these days. I’m not really a fan of gore or horror even, and this movie is kind of demented. This movie was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in awhile, a solid 7 or 8 out of 10. And this review comes from a very spiritual, compassionate guy who accepts all cultures, races and religious faiths. Definitely not my normal type of movie, but wow, helluva filmmaker! I will be looking for his next movie for sure. Not disparaging to Native Americans. I wouldn’t even consider those things human, and I’m pretty sure most sensible people – white, black, Native American or any culture would. This was a highly entertaining movie about the strength of the human spirit, a romance and a western. Nathaniel, you are entitled to your opinions, but IMHO you are worthless as a movie critic. Find something more constructive to do with your time.

    • Howard Blasczyk

      Sorry, meant to say most people would NOT consider these things even human, just to be clear

  • Mr goodbar

    This was an interesting film, but it’s very racist. I think that is probably the point of this movie. I feel like they underutilized Sid Haig (blaxploitation era actor). Also, a film score would have probably made it better. But honestly, this is a film that insinuates that these indigenous people deserved to be exterminated. Wouldn’t recommend to my white friends.

  • Walter Collins

    Fantastic flick!!!!!!

  • Jim Cowan

    Wow, this is where we are America. Whites have to be the bad guys or it’s racist! I guess the fact that most of what comes out of the media portrays white men as dumb, feckless, worthless, or evil isn’t good enough for this guy. Never mind that there is ample evidence of cannibalism in certain Native American tribes. Also Indians did do horrific things to settlers. So artistic license was taken, but there is no reason to view this film as racist or xenophobic. That is ridiculous on it’s face, particularly when remarks were made that bigotry was wrong as mentioned by others. You sir are a politically correct twit in a country jam packed with them. Your way of thinking actually kills people. Remember San Bernardino? A neighbor was too afraid of being branded a racist to speak up. How did that work out? By the way, my great grandmother was full Cherokee and no she didn’t eat people, but back when she was alive people didn’t race to get butt hurt about every little thing, like the wimpy liberals of your generation do.

  • hamilton geyser

    lol thanks white reviewer. What would the rest of us do without you?