“Night Raiders,” a new drama from Cree-Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet and now playing in theatres, draws on the historical horrors of the Sixties Scoop and Residential Schools to create an unforgettable, dystopian scenario set in the near future.
Set in a war-ravaged North America, society has crumbled and cities are now run by the military. All children are property of the state. Forcibly removed from their families, these children are housed in state “education academies.” Laws are enforced by killer drones and heavily armed soldiers, who execute parents for hiding their children.
Cree mother Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) hides her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) in the woods successfully until an injury forces them to go to the occupied city for medical treatment.
Cut to one year later. Waseese is now in a reeducation facility as Niska joins with a group of indigenous rebels called the Night Raiders, with the hope of freeing Waseese and the other inmates of the “children’s academy.”
“Night Raiders” effectively paints a somber portrait of totalitarian future, packed with foreboding and danger. The story is fictional but resonates with echoes of the ugly truths of colonization and forced assimilation. Goulet allows the viewer to make the comparisons between the real-life atrocities and the fictional elements of the story. There are no pages of exposition, just evocative images. Show me don’t tell me. The basis in truth of the underlying themes brings the story a weight often missing in the dystopian genre.
“Night Raiders” is at its best when it walks its own path. The allegory at its heart is strong and heartbreaking and gives the movie its gut punch. Less effective are the more traditional elements that feel like they snuck in from other sci fi stories.
Still, it packs historical relevance against a story of the resilience of the Cree people, while establishing Tailfeathers as a new kind of action hero—kind yet fearless—and avoiding most of the easy cliches of other apocalyptic movies.