Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Ted Geoghegan
Writer: Ted Geoghegan, Grady Hendrix
Producer: Travis Stevens, Greg Newman
Stars: Kaniehtiio Horn, Eamon Farren, Justin Rain, Ezra Buzzington, Noah Segan, Ian Colletti, Robert Longstreet, Jonathan Huber, Jack Gwaltney, Sheri Foster, David La Haye
While war rages between the United States and Great Britain, a Mohawk woman and her two companions fight for survival against a vengeful band of American soldiers.
Marketing bills “Mohawk” as a historical horror film, a categorization for which it certainly qualifies. But director Ted Geoghegan would like audiences to understand his movie is motivated by more than mere action. “Mohawk” drives drama by paralleling a contemporary social climate with challenging commentary on culture conflicts. Specifically, conflicts that threaten to further subjugate already marginalized people.
If that subtext sounds too timely or politically charged to be personally appealing, fret not. “Mohawk” features plenty of bone-crunching brutality for more visually inclined viewers too.
Built on the backdrop of the War of 1812, “Mohawk” follows Okwaho (Oak) and her two lovers, one of whom, Calvin, is Mohawk like her. The other, Joshua, is a British loyalist out to earn Native American support in the battle against the United States.
Convinced his people can no longer remain neutral, Calvin forces their hand by killing a camp of American soldiers. That’s not the inciting action Joshua wanted, but turning back is not an option. A vengeful platoon of armed and angry men now heads toward the tribe, with Oak, Joshua, and Calvin caught in the dead center of their crossfire.
Outwardly uncomplicated, “Mohawk’s” premise positions the film to examine arcs of revenge, redemption, courage, and cowardice. All the while, the bigger power play of indigenous people fighting to retain their identity in the face of intrusive adversity remains in focus. Those are the deep wells from where the film draws thematic strength, resulting in a movie whose boldness reflects the bravery of its central protagonist.
The story, while straightforward in setup, stays solid throughout each peak and valley. But despite having an impressively talented team behind the lens, technical execution doesn’t always support substance believably. Curious creative choices occasionally undercut an audience’s ability to fully fall into the fiction.
Does “Mohawk” look like a camera dropped into 1814 New York? Not quite. Costumes are presumably accurate to the time, yet their tailored theatricality outfits actors more like cosplay re-enactors than hardened veterans pulled from two centuries prior. Overdressing Noah Segan like a European poet only complicates how hard it is to take a modern man seriously as someone other than a play-acting caricature. Wardrobe tries adding individuality to personas, such as by giving Robert Longstreet the goggles of a steampunk jeweler, but the cast’s collective appearance doesn’t come off as cohesive.
Contemporary styles conflict with the setting in other ways. Wojciech Golczewski’s score has all the right rhythms for amplifying action with powerfully pulsing drumbeats. Yet its synthesizer-heavy sound adds a flourish that only throws tone back forty years instead of two hundred.
Karim Hussain’s cinematography aims for the same 70s feel that worked better to replicate era appropriateness on “We Are Still Here.” With “Mohawk,” energy leaks out of imagery from an anchored camera capturing action using tilts and pans instead of immersing itself in the moment. The preplanned nature of such shots makes it seem like scenes are merely being recorded rather than accentuated through active movement that isn’t created by the characters.
Geoghegan and his creative collaborators don’t do any of these things on accident. They purposefully choose to take experimental creative risks in order to explore their film on an artistic level as well as a thematic one. One can dispute, as I did, how successfully their gambles paid off.
Less arguable however is how admirable of an endeavor it is to take such a plunge in the first place. Not many indie filmmakers would dare to attempt a period piece on a limited budget for a sophomore feature. Closing the critical eye and opening an appreciative one instead, it’s a simpler matter to recognize that “Mohawk” works well as an ambitious action epic funneled efficiently into smaller scale scope.
Pacing makes mistakes like swinging a third act spotlight too early to follow lost soldiers while central characters fade from the foreground. Improvement opportunities like this bobble momentum, particularly during a rising phoenix sequence that could punch with more anguish and fierceness too. In spite of its issues, “Mohawk’s” relevance remarkably retains its resonance. Although “Mohawk” may not have taken me on a time travel trip, it nevertheless demands engagement by virtue of sincere cinematic intent.
Review Score: 70