Ted Geoghegan's swift, slicing thriller Mohawk makes a vigorous case for horror as perhaps the most fitting film genre to capture some truths of American history. Rather than a puffed-up prestige flick or a revisionist Tarantinoid revenge fantasy, Mohawk frames the War of 1812-era harassment of the Mohawk nation by the U.S. and British in the terms of an on-the-run action thriller just gore-minded enough to warrant a Fangoria spread. It imagines a quick, fictional incident in a true, decades-long genocide, starkly pitting oppressed versus oppressor while still emphasizing the humanity of each.
Director Geoghegan and his co-screenwriter, the horror novelist and critic Grady Hendrix, offer viewers about five minutes of calm over the course of the film's fleet 90. Mostly, this is effective hunt-or-be-hunted stuff, with two Mohawk -- a young woman (Kaniehtiio Horn) and man (Justin Rain) -- and a sympathetic Brit (Eamon Farren) harried through the woods by an American militia, despite the Mohawk nation's neutrality in the larger war. Pursued and pursuers continually get the drop on each other, and Geoghegan and his micro-budget tech team ace the showdowns, shootouts and spurts of blood.
Geoghegan and Hendrix -- and their cast -- invest the leads with inner lives without slowing down or fattening up the film. Horn and Rain play Oak and Calvin Two Rivers as warriors caught between a yearning to fight and the wisdom of caution. How best to protect their tribe, family and each other? Mohawk also notes most of the white militia's ambivalence. They're discomfited by their bloody work, but can't imagine challenging the racist and nationalistic cant that seems to justify it.