The sheriff, his deputy (Richard Jenkins), a local gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and the injured husband of one of the hostages (Patrick Wilson) head into the valley to confront the so-called troglodytes, As one might imagine, not all of them are going to make it back, and a number of people die in hideous ways.
Bone Tomahawk is incredibly gruesome—the film became infamous for a scene in which a man, still alive, is first scalped and then split in half by the genuinely frightening cannibals—but it’s also a lot more black and white than Zahler’s later films. The troglodytes are not meant to represent a real Indigenous tribe, so there’s less moral complexity about what the posse sets out to do. And none of the main characters have the kind of murky moral background that defines the leads of Zahler’s other films.
The pacing, at 132 minutes, may throw some viewers off, but Zahler takes his time to build up to the main clash and also let his characters develop, with the cast responding in kind. Everyone is excellent, but the affectionate if exasperated rapport between Russell’s Sheriff Hunt and Jenkins’ somewhat more dim Deputy Chicory is outstanding and builds a lot of good will for these men who face an unimaginable horror. Despite a few wobbles here and there, Bone Tomahawk is an amazingly confident debut.
S. Craig Zahler has not directed a film since principal photography on Dragged Across Concrete was completed in September 2017. Although he says that he’s had numerous other screenplays optioned over the years, he’s only gotten screenplay credit on two films outside his own directorial projects.
A new film was announced in 2022, titled Hug Chickenpenny and based on Zahler’s own 2018 horror novel, Hug Chickenpenny: The Panegyric of an Anomalous Child, with the film reportedly envisioned as a three-hour, black-and-white, animated effort involving puppets. According to World of Reel, Zahler was working with The Jim Henson Company on the project, although it was reported earlier this year that financing had fallen through for the movie (in addition to this and his other prose books, Zahler has also written and illustrated several graphic novels).
Although Zahler has said he has a handful of other movies and TV shows in development, none seem to have reached official greenlight status. One problem may be that his main backer on his previous films, a production company called Cinestate owned by Zahler’s manager, Dallas Sonnier, collapsed in 2020 following accusations of sexual assault against one of its producers as well as other reports of abusive behavior on film sets.