‘Mohawk’ Movie Review: The Little Horror Hybrid That Couldn’t

mohawk movie review

Snowfort Pictures

Genre-blending horror films are a rare breed. When done well, these movie hybrids can offer a breath of fresh air for audiences who grow tired of the same old tropes. 2015’s Bone Tomahawk nailed its startling fusion of period Western and hills-have-eyes monster movie. Those seeking similar thrills in Mohawk had better temper their hopes.

Mohawk brings revenge action and Native American mythology to its story, set in the cauldron of 1814 New York (the film is set in the wilderness upstate). Our protagonist is Oak, whose Mohawk tribe is beset on all sides by warring factions of American and British soldiers. During Oak’s struggle for survival, she is afflicted by nightmarish visions which provide the film’s few genuinely eerie moments. Those visions build to a satisfying transition for her character, which wraps up the nice things I have to say about Mohawk.

Oak’s character is compelling and performed with subtlety by actor Kaniehtiio Horn – but it’s not enough to save this film from its flaws. The no-budget costumes and makeup are the first thing you’ll notice. The film’s cast look like they’re playing dress-up in the woods. This constant distraction means that the viewer never gets a chance to settle into the film’s reality. I understand that Mohawk did not have the budget of a more absorbing film set during this era – The Revenant, for example – but more convincing worlds have surely been built with less. I thought Mohawk director and co-writer Ted Geoghegan built a far more convincing world in 2015’s We Are Still Here.

Some performances are also frustratingly distracting. Justin Rain wears a one-dimensional brooding frown as Calvin. Ezra Buzzington goes big as villain Hezekiah Holt, but we never get a chance to take him seriously. Some directing decisions just don’t make sense: when several characters verge on suffocation while getting smoked out of a foxhole, how do they manage to pause for a lengthy conversation? When Oak’s hand has been knifed to a post, why does she stand inactive instead of removing the knife with her free hand? Moments like these took me out of the film time and time again.

I was rooting for Mohawk. I wanted to become absorbed in this film, but each passing distraction made it impossible to penetrate its surface.

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