Movie Review: Night Raiders – Critics’ Center
Writer and director: Danis Goulet
Raiders of the night is a feature debut by Canadian director and screenwriter Danis Goulet. This is a post-apocalyptic story about a tight-knit group of Cree who survive in a world under the control of a brutal enemy.
Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and her eleven-year-old daughter Waseese (played with aplomb by Brooklyn Letextier-Hart) survived alone deep in the bush for four years where Waseese developed strange powers of hearing and communication. However, she fails to observe an old-fashioned animal trap, and her damaged leg is one of the reasons mother and daughter have to flee, the other being an attack by a vicious animal-like creature. drone. The city they reach is a dark shell where the survivors make a living. Niska reunites with an old friend, the wise Roberta (Amanda Plummer) and learns of the existence of a vigilante group that could help them escape. The enemy are the Jingos, identical armed men who act as executioners. Loudspeakers proclaim that it is desirable for the children to be sent to the Academy, clearly under Jingo’s control.
But the Jingo diet itself is barely drawn. We never find out if there is a cadre of leaders beyond masked soldiers, or anything of their ideology, beyond that of capturing and indoctrinating children. Compared to familiar dystopian works, Raiders of the night lack of imaginative power. Goulet avoids the seemingly key issue of authoritarian control over reproduction. There is nothing to indicate, for example, why the Jingos have to steal children – why can’t they breed their own?
The Academy, where Waseese is taken, is certainly a dreary place, with girls practicing in gray uniforms and sleeping in cages. But it’s more futuristic Jane eyre than The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s hard to see why any of them would adhere to a barely articulated ideology. You dream of an Aunt Lydia to spice things up. Meanwhile, the girls themselves appeared to have been captured before the brainwashing. We see them gang up viciously against Waseese, dismissing her as a “savage” because she lived in the bush.
There is no romanticism. The heart of the film is the powerful love of mother and daughter. Niska attracts the attention of several handsome men, but none seem to have the moral courage to be worthy of her.
Meanwhile, deep in the forest, lives a community of Cree men and women, who live harmoniously laughing and singing around the campfires. Although the Chief Elder is male, it is clearly the matriarchal figure of Grandma who holds the power. His vision that a Guardian will come from the North to save them seems to be fulfilled when Niska appears before them. They want her to help their children escape to the North – although what is in the North is never explained. Niska accepts but wants help saving Waseese from the Academy. It means returning to the city where a deadly human-made virus is rife. Niska and her companion escape this by tying scarves over their faces. But the most immediate danger to the Crees is a new road the Jingos are building directly into Cree land. A battle must ensue.
Raiders of the night is a worthy project, which won the Emerging Talent Award at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. This clearly demonstrates Goulet’s commitment to giving Indigenous peoples creative control over the telling of their stories. Several of the actors are of Cree descent – and Goulet herself is Cree-Métas. The film comes to life when we are among the Cree. But the slow pace and the easy resolution of dilemmas lead to monotony.
Signature Entertainment Presents Raiders of the night on digital platforms on December 6.