The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"MOHAWK"

Mohawk

Mohawk sneaks up and grabs you by the throat. You don't know what to expect from the opening minutes, then it suddenly announces itself as a brutal and intense experience. Director Ted Geoghegan, whose We Are Still Here is one of the best chillers of the last five years, has crafted something that straddles the line between historical drama and horror movie. There's nothing else quite like it, and that quality keeps you transfixed.

The story is set in 1812. British and American soldiers are in conflict. The Mohawk tribe attempts to stay neutral in this battle on their turf. Nevertheless, a Brit, Joshua (Ammon Farren), tries to encourage them to fight alongside his people. Neutrality becomes impossible when one Mohawk, Calvin (Justin Rain), kills a group of American soldiers, causing the ruthless Col. Hezekiah Holt (Ezra Buzzington) to come seeking revenge. Plunged right into the middle of this is a young woman named Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn). She wants a little revenge of her own after Holt gets his.

The first half of Mohawk is very character-driven, focusing on how Oak is gradually, inextricably entangled in a deadly situation not of her making. She is trapped between other characters who inflict various forms of hostility and violence upon one another. It isn't her war, yet it becomes her war. That's an inherently dramatic idea, one the film fleshes out with surprise bursts of violence that catch you off guard. (There's also a nail-biting scene in which Oak and Joshua get cornered by Holt and his men while hiding in a cave.) The underlying theme is one of colonialism, with Oak in many respects standing in for all Native Americans who found, or still find, themselves exploited by outsiders.

The second half is where the film morphs into the realm of horror. Oak leads her pursuers into a section of “haunted” forest and...well, I'm not going to say any more than that. Mohawk smartly doesn't make a hard left here. The horror aspect is just enough to add to the thematic impact, yet not so much that we feel as though we're watching a completely different movie. This addition takes us to a powerhouse conclusion that thrills and provokes thought in equal measure.

Geoghegan combines action and story skillfully, demonstrating a strong ability to establish a moment of quiet, then shatter it with abrupt, realistically-staged violence. You can never quite settle yourself watching Mohawk because anything could happen at any second. That gives the movie its tension.

High-caliber performances add to the effect. Ezra Buzzington makes Holt a truly fearsome villain, imbuing the character with so much malice that he can barely contain it. Kaniehtiio Horn, meanwhile, is striking as Oak. Her performance is all in the eyes, and not just because of the painted mask she wears. This young woman observes the dire things happening around her and uses the anger she feels to make a powerful stand. It's captivating work from the actress.

Mohawk could have let us get to know the characters for a few minutes at the beginning before plunging us into the action. It's a bit confusing trying to get a handle on who they all are at first. (Holt has several men who accompany him.) Also, the implication that Oak is a lover to both Calvin and Joshua might have been explored in additional depth. It's an intriguing element that we want to see more of.

Those are minor issues in a film that gets the big picture right. Mohawk may be set in the past but, as evidenced by a dedication to “the brave water protectors at Standing Rock,” it certainly has relevance to our current day. This is exciting, provocative genre cinema.

( out of four)


Mohawk is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexual content, and strong graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.


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