Director: Danis Goulet
Cast: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier- Hart, Alex Tarrant, Amanda Plummer, Violet Nelson
Runtime: 1 hr 42 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 9 December 2021
Synopsis: The year is 2043. A military occupation controls disenfranchised cities in post-war North America. Children are property of the State. A desperate Cree woman joins an underground band of vigilantes to infiltrate a State children’s academy and get her daughter back. Night Raiders is a female-driven dystopian drama about resilience, courage and love.
Not unless you care about the plight of indigenous North Americans will you be moved by ‘Night Raiders’, a dystopian sci-fi drama from first-time writer-director Danis Goulet.
Intended as parable of how such communities have indeed been displaced from their land and ghettoized in reserves, it imagines how North America in the year 2043 has been overtaken by a military government, which has not only put up an imposing wall to keep these people either living in forests or in squalid parts of town, but also forcibly conscripted their children into academic institutions to brainwash them from their language and culture.
To Goulet’s credit, ‘Night Raiders’ boasts impressive world-building. From the decrepit cityscapes and residential communities outside the wall, to the hopelessness and helplessness of those left to live their lives in filthy conditions, and to the quiet determination of the Cree community to resist the oppression of their government, Goulet paints a sobering picture that will resonate deeply with those able to understand and relate to his real-world analogy.
Unfortunately, for the rest who do not, ‘Night Raiders’ is simply an occasionally engaging survival story that will have you wondering just what the hype is all about; in fact, you’ll probably be left wondering how it was better off as an intimate mother-and-daughter tale than one about the titular band of underground vigilantes as well as the indigenous community they represent.
At least in the first half-hour, the set-up focused on Niska and Waseese (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, respectively) is tense and intriguing, pitting the pair against the dangers of the wilderness (when Waseese stumbles into a wildlife trap that seriously wounds her ankle) and the technology of the government (when they have to evade detection by drones sent to detect any sign of lifeform, especially juvenile). It is Wasesse’s injury that forces them to go into town, where Niska makes contact with a longtime friend Roberta (Amanda Plummer) while desperately trying to get Wasesse the medical attention she needs.
It is after Niska makes the devastating decision to leave Wassese in the hands of the armed forces and the film flashes ten months forward that the pace slackens. While Niska is reluctantly rehabilitated with members of her racial community, Wassese is being indoctrinated by the educators at the government academy she is held in, where she is also being trained to eventually oppress her very own people. There is plenty of exposition in this middle act, but neither the characters or their predicament is fleshed out sufficiently to be compelling.
It doesn’t help too that the plotting takes some curious turns, like why the Cree regard Niska as some kind of saviour (such that they would entrust her to lead the children they had rescued from the academy to some safe haven in the mountains) or how some mysterious virus suddenly forces the evacuation of those living in the city (as well as a forced encounter between Roberta and the son she had lost to the government). By expanding the world around Niska and Wassese, the film also inevitably loses its emphasis on the bond between mother and daughter, thus diluting the emotional impact of the film.
Like we said therefore, it requires understanding of the political commentary Goulet is making in order to fully appreciate the nuances at play here. Only with the knowledge of the real-life cultural erasure it is meant to depict do the proceedings take on added significance, or for that matter does the ending (that sees Wassese save the day) not come across as a deus-ex-machina. Without that context, ‘Night Raiders’ is as unexceptional as its title, and not even the fact that it has a good sense of atmosphere can disguise its ultimate mediocrity.
(Otherwise as unexceptional as its title, this dystopian sci-fi drama is only significant as allegory for the plight of the Indigenous communities in North America)
Review by Gabriel Chong