Mohawk is angry. Like really angry. It's not afraid to show the price to be paid when you pick a side in a bloody conflict. It also imparts on us that there's no easy way off the path of vengeance once you start walking it. There's a clear villain here, but plenty of gray on both sides of this tale. Some other bold choices (a synth score in a period film, splattery violence to please the gore hounds, etc.) help firm up this unique and enjoyable film.
Director and co-writer Ted Geoghegan last brought us the scary and atmospheric We Are Still Here, a haunted house movie that was quite effective within the confines of a smaller budget. By the way, if you haven't seen We Are Still Here, it's available on Amazon Prime and Shudder to stream right now and I highly recommend that you check it out. It'll make you rethink buying a house with "some history" in New England.
Mohawk jumps us right into the War of 1812 and quickly introduces its small cast of characters. The Mohawk tribe has not picked a side in the conflict and wishes to remain neutral. We meet Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn), her Mohawk lover Calvin (Justin Rain), and her other lover Joshua (Eamon Farren), who happens to be a British officer. The movie handles this polyamourous relationship appropriately and effectively, by not making it a story point or really making a big deal of it, the relationship just feels natural to the story. Calvin makes a rash decision and strikes first agains the Americans, effectively picking a side for his people. By murdering a few of them in their sleep, Calvin draws the attention of Hezekiah Holt (Ezra Buzzington) and his band of men, who will pursue the trio into the deep woods.
The real standout performance in this movie belongs to Kaniehtiio Horn as Oak. Just as fearsome as her partners, Oak happens to be the wisest and most level-headed of the three on the run. Horn brings a real gravity and weariness to the role. She suffers, she mourns, and she eventually becomes an embodiment of vengeance. Out of all the characters in this movie, she is who the audience will latch onto and who they will want to see still standing at the very end.
Jon Huber (aka Luke Harper from the WWE) turns in a nuanced performance as a conflicted soldier following Holt. In a role that would typically just serve as a henchman or fodder for the good guys, Huber plays an experienced soldier who may have finally seen too much. The script is smart in that it doesn't waste time establishing back stories for all of these characters. We can tell Huber has a long history because of his awkward knee brace and his attitude towards the task at hand. I found it refreshing to have a conflicted character who questions the mission and isn't just another snarling one-dimensional henchman.
Budgetary constraints stand out in this film a little more than they did in We Are Still Here. We don't see any real villages or other establishments, it mostly just takes place amongst the earthy canopy of the woods. The costumes also look a little too clean and not very lived in, as you might expect for these characters. These are tiny nitpicks and they don't affect the overall quality of the movie, but may stand out to some viewers.
Overall, I think the film is definitely worth a watch and I am genuinely intrigued as to what Ted Geoghegan will do next. I can't imagine this film being made 10 or 15 years ago. I think American audiences would have had a much harder time accepting a narrative where the "patriots" weren't the good guys. Times have changed and this film is certainly ripe for the current political climate.
Mohawk is now playing in select theaters and is available for purchase or rent from iTunes and the other VOD platforms. If you happen to live in Columbus, you can see Mohawk on the big screen at the Gateway Film Center starting on March 23.