Horror and genre are often a reflection of the times we live in. War, poverty, and civil rights have all been interwoven into the stories of mad and macabre over the past 50 plus years. It is rare though to see a historical film, especially one with genre running through its veins, reflect the current political and social climate.
Period pieces on film can be tricky. Not only do you have to worry about nailing the tone and the setting but you have to consider each of the moving parts that characters bring to it like props, wardrobe, and dialect. When you add genre to that mix it can be even more difficult. The idea of making the otherworldly or supernatural believable in the context of a historical backdrop can be daunting and sometimes downright impossible. Mohawk, however, is what happens when a writer-director team like Grady Hendrix and Ted Geoghegan who understand the ins and outs of genre and history, as well as have a deep reverence towards the plight of indigenous people create something truly haunting, beautiful and awe-inspiring all while tackling the harsh realities of our current climate.
The film takes place in the midst of the war of 1812 as British agent Joshua (Eamon Farren) attempts to pursuade Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain) and mutual lover Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn) to embolden their Mohawk people and join the fight against the Americans, a plan that Oak is not keen on seeing through. However, when Calvin attacks American troops, his actions set into motion a series of events that threaten Oak and the Mohawk tribes very way of life.
The film is an impressive accomplishment on almost every front but especially because of the stellar cast. Horn’s Oak is a tour de force of intensity and emotion. As her world begins to crumble around her and she is plagued by haunting visions, it is her ferocity that propels the story forward. And what is a heroine without her villain? Ezra Buzzington’s Hezekiah Holt is the reflection of everything we have to fear today. Racist, xenophobic, sexist and imperialistic. He is the avatar of the hate we are experiencing as a country and a haunting reminder that that hate hasn’t been very far from hand in over 200 years. We feel every wound that Oak suffers. We endure every loss with her. And, when the two forces of nature finally meet, we have an incredibly cathartic release.
The film is equally impressive for the tropes of historical films that it bucks and does away with. Gone are the epic, wide open shots of the great unknown. Farewell to the sweeping orchestral scores you’ve come to expect with films like this. Director Ted Geoghegan instead takes a decidedly retro (at least filmically speaking) approach to both the look and sound of Mohawk. Cinematographer Karim Hussain (Hobo With a Shotgun), who worked on the director’s previous feature We Are Still Here, brings a unique perspective to the carnage, choosing to keep things moving and kinetic like the action films of the 70’s. There is a lot of handheld work and quick zooms that breath new life into a tired sub-genre. The other contributing factor to this new life is the retro synth score by composer Wojciech Golczewski, also rejoining Geoghegan from his previous film. Golczewski, known for his synth-driven work, brings that sensibility to this period and in doing so creates a haunting, ethereal soundscape that is unlike anything found in a film like this before it.
Mohawk is not an easy film. It is brutal and beautiful. It is historic and familiar yet defies expectation. It is by and away one of the most wholly original films of the year. Geoghegan and Hendrix have crafted a one of a kind tale that serves as a reminder of our sins and acts as a warning to not let the same thing continue to happen again and again.
5 out of 5.
Mohawk is now available on VOD and on physical media.