While studios continue to downplay Native American experiences, Ted Geoghegan’s gripping new thriller puts their brutal persecution in context.
The depiction of Native Americans in the movies is notorious for its reductive stereotypes. By those standards, “Mohawk,” a bloody, low-budget survival saga about members of a flailing tribe facing off against brutish American soldiers during the war of 1812, arrives like a revelation. The sophomore feature from Ted Geoghegan is a far cry from the haunted house tropes of his debut, “We Are Still Here,” but it explores a much more realistic horror — the struggle to survive against ruthless persecution, even as the future looks grim.
It’s a fast-paced action-thriller that, while rough around the edges, delivers a wild ride — and an implicit rebuke to the limitations of Hollywood storytelling.
The movie, which premiered at the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival, revolves around the plight of Oak (Kaniehtiio Horn), a young member of the Mohawk tribe in upstate New York, and the two men with whom she enjoys a polyamorous relationship: Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain) and Joshua (Eamon Farren), a British agent sent to warn the natives about approaching American troops looking to steal the Mohawks’ land. While the tribe remained neutral during the war, that didn’t stop troops from ruthlessly plundering native tribes. “Mohawk” takes place exclusively within the confines of a dense forest, as a group of militia led by the bloodthirsty Hezekiah (Ezra Buzzington) attempt to murder the local trio in an increasingly tense game of cat and mouse.
Needless to say, the protagonists of “Mohawk” are a far cry from “The Revenant” and other movies about the American frontier in which the natives wind up as bit players alongside white heroes. In Geoghegan’s unsettling vision, the Americans are pure evil, power-hungry imperialistic monstrosities not all that different from the deranged rapists in…