by Brandon Thomas
Good science fiction has always held a mirror up to humanity’s failings. The complex ways we continue to make bad decisions that impact society, our families and the planet have been fodder for incredible storytelling for decades. The genre has routinely used the present to paint a complicated future. With Night Raiders, Canadian director Danis Goulet looks backward – to North America’s bloody genocidal past – to make a statement about free will, colonization and identity in a dystopian future.
Night Raiders opens with Niska (Elle Maija-Tailfeathers) and her daughter, Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart), living an isolated and dangerous existence in the wilderness. In their war-ravaged world, children are taken from their parents so that they can be thoroughly conditioned to become soldiers. When Waseese is injured, Niska is forced to take her to the city for treatment. The film then jumps forward nearly a year and finds Niskia with a group of rebels, while Waseese has ended up in a “children’s academy,” which is really a reeducation camp.
On paper, Night Raiders doesn’t sound all that different from countless other dystopian sci-fi movies. However, the film’s details make it truly shine. Making this an indigenous story featuring indigenous leads gives Night Raiders the kind of gravitas it wouldn’t have had any other way. The colonization metaphor isn’t subtle, but Goulet doesn’t beat the audience over the head with it. It’s impossible to tell this story in this manner without connecting those dots.
Goulet wisely lets a sense of mystery hang over large portions of the story. There aren’t any characters providing lengthy exposition dumps to help the audience catch up. No, this is simply a world where something terrible happened, and the bad guys won the day. Night Raiders trusts the audience to fill in the gaps where needed, while knowing that not every last detail needs an exclamation point after it.
Night Raiders is an exciting and fresh bit of sci-fi that succeeds largely by telling a well-traveled story through a compelling point-of-view.