Mohawk Review – A Powerful and Necessary Story That Suffers From Technical Issues
Starring Keaniehtiio Horn, Ezra Buzzington, Eamon Farren, Justin Rain, Jon Huber
Directed by Ted Geoghegan
We all know Ted Geoghegan from 2015’s We Are Still Here, a fantastic entry into the haunted house subgenre of horror that starred icons Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden. Now Geoghegan is back with Mohawk, a period action/drama that clearly features his love of horror but adapts it to suit a story built upon pain, complexity, and historical tragedy.
The film, set in 1814, follows Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn) and her two lovers, Joshua (Eamon Farren), and Calvin (Justin Rain). Joshua, a British soldier, is trying to convince Oak’s mother Wentahawi (Sheri Foster) that the Mohawk tribe must align with UK forces against the Americans lest they get slaughtered. However, Wentahawi wants nothing to do with either side, electing to remain neutral, something Calvin doesn’t agree with. On his own, he slips into an American outpost and kills several soldiers before being chased away. So begins the hunt of Oak, Joshua, and Calvin by Colonel Hezekiah Holt (Ezra Buzzington) and his men.
Mohawk, for the vast majority of its runtime, is confined to the forests of rural New York, where it was shot. And while much talk is made of mountains and ridges, we sadly never see these potentially beautiful views. The film remains confined below the leaves, robbing us of the chance to see the expansive wilderness that these characters are battling against each other in. Furthermore, not only do we remain below the canopy of leaves, there is something strangely claustrophobic about the way Mohawk was filmed. Action shots are often so close that it’s difficult to understand what is happening and even many scenes of dialogue are shot as close-ups. The end result is that the location feels, in a strange way, useless. At a certain point, I began to wonder if the shots were all done in the same immediate vicinity, just with the camera pointed in a different direction for different scenes.
Speaking of strange cinematography choices, there are also editing issues that make the film feel very jumpy. Whereas great care is put into much of the film and ensuring that everything flows smoothly, there are times during action sequences when it feels like a few seconds are lost in the space of one edit. Such jarring edits don’t feel like a result of the heat of battle but rather are a questionable decision in the editing bay.
The film aims to challenge the views of audiences with a couple different themes that areas relevant now as they were over two centuries ago. The first is by introducing an LGBTQ element into the film, with Oak and her polyamorous relationship between Joshua and Calvin. It is also quite strongly suggested, if not outright made clear, that Joshua and Calvin have their own romantic thing going on as well. The only person who has an issue with Joshua’s sexual relationship between Oak and Calvin is Oak’s mother, Wentahawi. Her issue, however, is not out of disgust at the thought of such a relationship taking place, it’s that she feels like he is doing for his own personal gains as a British soldier. And while this topic could’ve made for some wonderful tension throughout the film, it’s such a secondary thought that it feels wasted. Yes, we see the love between the three and it feels natural since we see no jealousy between them but it’s never explored. If the point was to make it seem natural and “every day”, it absolutely succeeded. But if it aimed to do anything more than that, it failed.
The other theme that might cause many audience members to cause a fuss is that the film doesn’t make any pretense about America being rather villainous, at least in relation to the other parties in the film. “We’re the only monsters left out here,” Colonel Holt growls at his men at one point in the film, after several atrocities were committed. It’s rather on the nose, as is the way the American soldiers look: dirtier and more pathetic than anyone else in the film.
Even though Americans are the baddies in this film, Geoghegan and co-writer Grady Hendrix elected to muddy the waters. Remember, it was Calvin who opened the floodgates with his own personal attack. Whether or not the Americans would’ve attacked the Mohawk is, in this instance, a moot point. First blood was drawn by one of our “heroes”, so how do we root for people who elected to kill? Such conflict makes for a richer, and more interesting film. Even more fascinating is that the Americans are the ones given the majority of character development, instead of Oak, Joshua, and Calvin. Such a choice only encourages the idea that there’s no easy answer to the greater topics at hand.
I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t like Mohawk because I genuinely enjoyed a great deal of it. The performances were fantastic across the board, especially Horn in the role of Oak, who conveys strength, grief, pain, and determination with seemingly effortless ease. Also, the costumes, props, and makeup were clearly given a great deal of attention and careful thought to ensure accuracy was maintained. And for those who are hoping that Geoghegan will pull a We Are Still Here and grace us with more intense gore, you shan’t be disappointed.
Additionally, I want to highlight composer Wojciech Golczewski and his score, which begins with an almost bombastic symphonic piece. From there, the music transitions into a more synth-based score that works surprisingly well, considering the period setting of the film.
At the end of the day, the most frustrating part of Mohawk is the incredible amount of potential that it holds. These kinds of stories need to be told, not only because they ensure that we do not forget our past but also for our need to recognize the complicated nature of history. Heroes and villains are rarely cut-and-dry and Mohawk doesn’t shy away from that. Alas, issues with pacing, cinematography, and editing cannot be ignored and sadly detract from the overall experience.