Jan 5, 2019
I remember seeing today’s movie show up on Rotten Tomatoes as a new release with a limited run at the theaters, and remember when I placed it in my Netflix queue, and remember when it became certified fresh after hitting streaming services. I also remember it sitting there most of the year, waiting for an opening, and being pulled from the schedule more than a few times because of another, more pressing film. Now that more regular contributors are coming on board, I hope to return to gems like today’s film, as long as we keep up with all the new Netflix Originals on the way for 2019.
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Today’s movie is “Mohawk” (2017), the Dark Sky Films and Snowfort Pictures historical thriller directed by Ted Geoghegan and written for the screen in collaboration with Grady Hendrix. Set during the War of 1812, Okwaho (Kaniehtiio Horn), a Mohawk warrior, must flee with her village into the wilderness after one of her lovers burns down an American camp. Pursued by a group of American officers, she and her companions must fight for survival in the harsh frontier.
Hollywood has generally not been kind to the First Nations, often depicted as ignorant savages that needed civilization at the point of a bayonet and with the backing of the church. Last year I reviewed two films involving the First Nations, one of the earliest documentaries ever made called “Nanook of the North” (Episode #112), and one of the first fictional films to draw heavily from the First Nations, “Daughter of Dawn” (Episode #105). I had some significant problems with both films, mostly because of the obvious European cultural bias, but I also appreciated the surprising authenticity brought to both films. I had concerns about today’s film, with a gut reaction to avoid it for fears of appropriation, but as the critics weighed in, and I did more research on the film, I knew I had to see it, and I’m really glad I did.
Kaniehtiio Horn identifies as Mohawk, and her mother was a political activist for the Kahnawake nation. Horn not only plays the lead character, but also served as cultural consultant. It’s an important role, especially when dealing with the tale of mixed morality and situational ethics brought to today’s film. I’m not talking just about Okwaho’s polyamorous relationship with fellow Mohawk Calvin Two Rivers (Justin Rain) and British rabble-rouser Joshua Pinsmail (Eamon Farren), which may confuse monogamists out there, but that Calvin and Joshua are specifically trying to urge the Mohawk into war with the United States during The War of 1812. The United States has never been a friend to the First Nations, and quite frankly are directly responsible for the genocide which occurred for centuries after the first colonies appeared. However, genuine work towards a lasting peace was often upset by individual actors, and while there are discussions about the larger political and social relationships between the two nations, the film boils down to individual actors making poor choices, then continuing to act in response to each individual event.
It’s the kind of story that would scare any major Hollywood production company, because it is ripe for social backlash from all sides. The unique power of low-budget production and distribution companies like Dark Sky Films and Snowfort Pictures is being able to take chances on films like “Mohawk”, and find surprising success. Everything about this film screams potential, including being able to leverage the previous success of “Assassin’s Creed III”, an open-world game set just before the American Revolution with a half-Mohawk, half-European protagonist struggling with living in two divergent worlds, on which Horn also worked as a voice, and which faced all sorts of knee-jerk criticism. It may not find that success at the box office, but many classic and cult favorites don’t find their audience until they leave the theater. The audience for “Mohawk” will continue to grow, and perhaps there might even be a few sequels, if we’re lucky.
“Mohawk” (2018) is future cult classic, a low-budget historical action-horror dealing with mixed morality and situational ethics during a time of war and genocide. While it may lack the production value of today’s box office smashes, it more than makes up for it with an overall great quality in every other respect. Fans of historical films, especially from the post-colonial time period, should definitely check out this film, along with any fan of low-budget cinema.
Rotten Tomatoes: 83% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.2/10
“Mohawk” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.