Mohawk review: Ted Geoghegan delivers a new spin on the age old Cowboys and Indians story.
Mohawk review by Kat Hughes.
There was a time when the Western genre was pretty much the only film genre. The movie theatres were full of white hats fighting black hats, and Mexican standoffs at high noon. Then somewhere along the way, the popularity waned. Potentially a by-product of genre fatigue, the Western had essentially been retired. Then we got Bone Tomahawk, a film that gave a horror spin on the Western trope, and Westworld had a tele-visual face-lift and made westerns modern and relevant again. Now comes Ted Geoghegan’s Mohawk, a Western that plays out from the heavily under-represented Native American side.
Back in the day, the Native Americans – or Indians as films referred to them – were seen as either the enemy that needed wiping out at all costs, or the wise friend of our accepting lead. It was very rare that the clans were given time to shine apart from our hero, but Mohawk redeems this by placing the Mohawk people at the dead centre of the story. Not only that, but our lead is actually a female tribe member and a pretty kick-ass one at that. Set during the War of 1812, the film follows young Mohawk woman Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn) and her two lovers as they face-off against a group of American soldiers hell-bent on revenge.
It’s so refreshing to see a lady kick-ass in any film, let alone a Western, a genre that has never been that forward-thinking when it comes to it’s female characters. Horn is herself a native of Kahnawake, a Mohawk reserve outside of Montreal, Quebec, making her an actual Mohawk – there can be no white-washing claims here. Her portrayal of Oak is understated and calm with a quiet stirring of power bubbling under the surface. This power bursts forth during the final third giving Horn an opportunity to show her ferocious side.
On the American side we have Hezekiah Holt, a military man gone mad, consumed by power and the desire to wipe out the Mohawk people. He’s played by Ezra Buzzington as your archetypal power-crazed mad man, which works perfectly against Horn’s quiet and deliberate Oak. Holt is that dangerous mix of mad, unhinged, and the belief that he is the good guy; you never quite know what he’s going to do next, and that’s unsettling for the audience. This is a man who could so easily wipe out his own men if he thought it would get him closer to his prey. Making up some of his squad are Jon Huber, better known in wrestling circuits as Luke Harper, and Noah Segan. Segan plays the wimpish Yancy, a translator who finds himself in the middle of a war and unable to cope. It’s a perfect casting choice, and much like his previous role of Kid Blue, seems to be one he was born to play.
Mohawk is a film that doesn’t rely too heavily on dialogue, in fact the use of dialogue is another way of highlighting the differences between our warring sides. Oak’s side use language sparingly and get to the point quickly and succinctly. The American’s can’t stop running their mouths, constantly spewing forth words that, given the situation, don’t necessarily have any meaning or usefulness. Keeping the script stripped back adds a strange meditative quality to the piece and means that, when dialogue is in play, it commands the viewer’s attention.
Set within the trees, the film connects with the nature of its surroundings and we get some beautiful shots. The costumes and make-up are all visually arresting and juxtapose nicely against the naturalness of the backdrop. The score too is just so good. It comes from Wojciech Golczewski, who after working on We Are Still Here, Late Phases and Beyond the Gates, shows that he is a composer to watch. Despite the film’s old setting, the score feels modern and thus makes it feel more current.
Mohawk offers a fresh story angle on the invasion and occupation of America, it’s beautifully shot and bone-crushingly brutal, and features an incredibly kick-ass heroine. It’s a very different movie to Geoghegan’s previous We are Still Here, and demonstrates that he is capable of tackling a plethora of genre’s and styles.
Mohawk review by Kat Hughes, October 2017.
Mohawk is currently playing as part of the Grimmfest programme.