The second directorial feature from Ted Geoghegan, Mohawk (2018), was made available earlier this week on several streaming services, courtesy of our friends at Dark Sky Films. Geoghegan’s first full-length feature was the well-received haunted house film, We Are Still Here (2015). Like many critics, I was impressed with Geoghegan’s first film that showed a willingness to experiment with familiar narratives and innovated with a relatively small budget. With Mohawk, Geoghegan takes another step in building an impressive filmography.
Set during the War of 1812, Mohawk follows the story of a Mohawk woman named Oak (played by Kaniehtiio Horn) and her two lovers – a Mohawk man named Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain) and a British soldier, Joshua (Eamon Farren). As the violence of the ongoing war continues to claim the lives of the neutral Mohawk tribe, Joshua and Calvin try to convince Mohawk elders to side with the British and join the battle. Frustrated by their refusal, Calvin sets fire to an American camp in the middle of the night, killing several soldiers. The surviving soldiers, led by the cruel and consumed Hezekiah Holt (Ezra Buzzington), pursue Oak and her companions deep into the wilderness, forcing them to engage in a brutal fight for survival.
As a filmmaker, Geoghegan exhibits a few similarities to John Carpenter; he is quite good at getting the most out of relatively small budgets and casts. Mohawk is a tightly paced film where character motivations and development are expertly interwoven with the action. The film’s brutal violence is well executed, never feeling exploitative or cheap. Violence in Mohawk is driven by the film’s story and arguably reflective of the violence committed against Indigenous peoples in the same time period and decades that followed. Geoghegan’s approaches to framing this violence in the film gives those scenes the jolting shock for which they are intended as opposed to the numbing effect one often feels watching the gratuitous violence of an Eli Roth film. None of the violence in Mohawk is trivialized or played for laughs; its simple and brutal.
While none of the performances in the film are bad, there is a range in the acting onscreen. Kaniehtiio Horn stands out with her performance, making Oak a fully real character with whom the audience can empathize. It helps that the screenplay, written by Geoghegan and Grady Hendrix, humanizes and places its Indigenous characters front and centre in the film, avoiding the use of worn stereotypes. Mohawk also thankfully avoids giving in to the ‘White Savior’ trope and having its British soldier offer the film’s heroics. Buzzington’s American soldier, Holt, gives a suitably chilling performance and stands in well as a symbol of colonial violence. Wresting fans will rejoice seeing Jon Huber (Luke Harper) in his big screen debut; The Rock probably doesn’t need to start worrying yet but Huber is certainly game in his performance.
Mohawk offers a little something different for horror fans among a sea of overly similar independent horror films. The film effectively balances its human drama and shots of bloody violence giving us more evidence that director Ted Geoghegan is someone to keep an eye on. Early into 2018, Mohawk joins Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake and Spanish horror film, Veronica, as one of the better genre entries.