By MICHAEL GINGOLD
After chilling audiences with his much-praised haunted-house film WE ARE STILL HERE, filmmaker Ted Geoghegan goes for a combination of action, horror and historical drama that is quite relevant to our current times in MOHAWK. On the eve of its world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival tomorrow, July 15, RUE MORGUE has some exclusive words with Geoghegan about the movie.
Scripted by Geoghegan and HORRORSTÖR/MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM author Grady Hendrix, MOHAWK is set two years after the start of the War of 1812, when a pair of young Native American warriors and their British companion are relentlessly tracked through dense forests by murderously vengeful American soldiers. The cast includes Kaniehtiio Horn (THE THEATRE BIZARRE’s “Vision Stains”), Justin Rain, Ezra Buzzington (THE HILLS HAVE EYES), Ian Colletti (“Arseface” on AMC’s PREACHER), Noah Segan (DEADGIRL, THE MIND’S EYE), Jon Huber (a.k.a. the WWE’s Luke Harper), Robert Longstreet, Sheri Foster, Eamon Farren and Guy William Gane III (WE ARE STILL HERE’s most prominent ghost). RUE MORGUE spoke to Geoghegan during MOHAWK’s upstate New York shoot.
When you first came up with the concept for MOHAWK, was it the genre side or the historical side that most interested you?
It was an even balance. My love of horror shines through in everything I do; I’m obsessed with horror, I live and breathe it, but at the same time, this is a time period that has rarely been dramatized in any form of media. The War of 1812 took place after the Revolutionary War but before the Civil War, both of which have been portrayed countless times, and the War of 1812 is often thought of as a forgotten part of American history. So the idea of being able to interject a little bit of the genre I love so much into something that’s grossly underrepresented was very appealing. Beyond that, the fact that we have indigenous people in the leads—there were many reasons outside of horror that I was attracted to the concept, but at the end of the day, I also wanted to make something nail-bitingly scary.
I’ve heard quite a bit of dialogue on set about what it means to be a true American, which is obviously very timely given the current political climate.
Well, much like war is today and was long ago, the situation in this movie is not black and white; the whole story deals with shades of grey. MOHAWK doesn’t have heroes and villains; it’s about people with specific outlooks and beliefs, and how those beliefs collide. The bad guys don’t breathe fire, in the same way the good guys make decisions that one might consider bad. For a lot of the characters in the film, the greatest crime they commit is not speaking up against something that they disagree with.
Dealing with these themes in a genre context seems like the kind of thing you could only do in film as an independent.
Absolutely. This certainly doesn’t feel like a studio film, though at the same time, I feel like it taps into a lot of mainstream concepts. And it’s important to challenge the expectations of what an independent film is. I never want to go into a project feeling like, “This is my budget, this is my cast, these are the locations I have access to, I’ll make a movie based around those things.” What I try to do is think, “Here’s a script I want to make, and I’m gonna make it!” And when you do, that’s awesome.
When I visited the set of WE ARE STILL HERE, it was freezing cold, and now you’re running around in the woods in the heat of the summer. Did you know what you letting yourself in for when you wrote MOHAWK?
Well, we’re actually about 25 miles from the WE ARE STILL HERE location. When Grady and I wrote this script, never in a million years did I think I’d be so close to where we shot my first film—or how hot and humid it would be. But as much as it pains me to be out in the heat, we have a cast of incredible actors who are wearing authentic wool uniforms, and suffering with the most amazing skill. They’re just giving it their all every day in the sweltering heat.
Your cinematographer, Karim Hussain, directed “Vision Stains”; was he involved in casting Horn?
He was. When I approached Karim about shooting MOHAWK, his immediate response was, “Well, you know who your lead is. It’s Tiio Horn!” I said, “I’m not familiar with her,” and he was like, “Oh, you are, she was the star of my segment of THE THEATRE BIZARRE.” I immediately said, “Oh my God, is she Mohawk?” and he said, “Yeah, absolutely!” So I had a conversation with her, and I immediately felt, “This is Oak.” Tiio is such a strong, bad-ass person, she embodies everything I was excited about portraying in this film and she has brought that to the character tenfold.
Another recent historical genre movie, THE WITCH, sparked some contention with its use of Jacobean English dialogue. What has been your approach to the language in MOHAWK?
I love period movies, but as a filmmaker working today, I was drawn to the idea of creating a movie that is linguistically correct, but uses modern English. Every word spoken by every character in MOHAWK is one that was spoken in 1814, so there are no anachronistic words here, but they are spoken in a current vernacular that will allow audiences today to respond to them on a personal, emotional level.