Film Review | Mohawk (2018)
Directed by Ted Geoghegan and co-written by him and Grady Hendrix, Mohawk is a grisly, timely action-horror film in which a Native American duo and their British ally battle vengeful American soldiers. Starring Kaniehtiio Horn, Ezra Buzzington and Eamon Farren.
Mohawk is many things, and not all of them make sense, either on their own or together. It’s a potent period piece, with things to say about the genocide of Native Americans. (It’s no Wind River, but still.) It’s also a tale of supernatural horror and revenge. S**t, it’s even a low-budget actioner starring a WWE wrestler. The sophomore feature of Ted Geoghegan is suspenseful, bizarre and bloody, but even in such a crowded genre marketplace it has enough fiery fury to stand out for those who like their action with brains, or their brains with beheadings.
During the War of 1812 between America and Great Britain, the titular Mohawk tribe want to remain neutral in the conflict. This doesn’t go down well with the warrior Calvin (Justin Rain), who schleps into an American camp and slaughters a bunch of soldiers while they sleep – an oddly underwritten act that is bold and stupid enough to raise a few questions that the script never really addresses. Still, it’s enough to force the hand of his compatriots, Oak and Joshua (Eamon Farren), the latter a snivelling Englishman.
Oak is played by Kaniehtiio Horn, a First Nations Mohawk who grew up on the Kahnawake Reserve and who here serves as a cultural consultant as well as the lead actress. Of the various authentic details, one of the most interesting is that Oak, Calvin and Joshua all seem to f**k each other, which everyone involved in the film swears is historically accurate. Who says everything’s better these days?
I’ll tell you what is better: race relations. And that’s saying something given our current political climate, but I digress. Mohawk’s villain, Col. Holt (Buzzington), is convinced he has dominion over the land’s “savages”. His band of misfit deserters aren’t quite as vicious as he is, but that might be because they’re portrayed as outlandish goons. One of them (Robert Longstreet) has a 40-a-day croak and for some reason a pair of steampunk goggles. Another (Jon Huber) is played by a WWE wrestler, whose character in that organisation is a sweaty, mystical hick, and whose character here is still sweaty but also wears a leg brace. No magic powers, like, but there’s plenty of that elsewhere.
It’s testament to Geoghegan’s talents that he’s able to handle the headfirst dive into overt supernatural territory as well as he does. Early on there are hazy visions of a menacing figure cutting about wearing an animal skull, but to make that literal rather than cultural subtext is pretty ballsy. He’s able to maintain a consistent command of the material’s tone, and thanks to a naturalistic script, excellent cinematography (by Karim Hussain) and a menacing synthesiser score (by Wojciech Golczewski) that alternates with periods of dramatic silence and stillness, even the film’s trickiest moments are executed with aplomb.
On the subject of that script, it deserves credit for not only including enough small, quiet scenes at the outset that the heroes’ kinky three-way relationship seems feasible, but also for giving the villains their share of time and attention. Holt’s acolytes are reluctant; still unpleasant, sure, but aware of how far their leader is descending into outright madness. Yet even that madness is lent enough rationality that if you squint you can more or less see where Holt’s coming from, even if it is a place of profound ignorance and delusion.
Mohawk treads a fine line between grim realism – it was made on a noticeable shoestring budget, but has a ton of gory practical effects – and out-there supernatural mumbo-jumbo. But it’s a work of impressive technical acumen with a fair helping of powerful imagery, and the guts to cast America itself as the villain in its own blood-soaked history. That’s a pretty good reason to check it out.