Writer and Director: Danis Goulet
Night Raiders is a first full-length film by Canadian director and screenwriter Danis Goulet. It is a post-apocalyptic story featuring a close-knit group of Cree people surviving in a world under the control of a brutal enemy.
Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and her eleven-year-old daughter Waseese (played with poise by Brooklyn Letextier-Hart) have survived alone deep in the bush for four years where Waseese has developed uncanny powers of hearing and communication. She fails to observe an old-fashioned animal-trap, however, and her damaged leg is one of the reasons mother and daughter have to flee, the other being an attack by a vicious drone-like creature. The city they reach is a bleak shell where survivors scrape a basic living. Niska finds an old friend, the wise woman Roberta (Amanda Plummer) and learns of a vigilante group who might help them to escape.The enemy are the Jingos, identical armed men who act as enforcers. Loudspeakers proclaim the desirability of children being sent to The Academy, clearly under Jingo control.
But the Jingo regime itself is thinly drawn. We never discover whether there is a cadre of leaders beyond the masked soldiers, nor anything of their ideology, beyond that of capturing and indoctrinating children. Compared to familiar dystopian works, Night Raiders lacks imaginative power. Goulet avoids the seemingly key issue of authoritarian control of reproduction. There is no indication, for example, why the Jingos have to steal children – why can’t do their own breeding?
The Academy, where Waseese is taken, is certainly a dreary place, girls exercising in grey 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 buy into an ideology that is barely articulated. You long for an Aunt Lydia to spice things up. Meanwhile the girls themselves seemed to have been captured pre-brainwashed. We see them nastily ganging up against Waseese, shunning her as a “savage” because she has lived in the bush.
There is no romance. The heart of the film is the powerful love of mother and daughter. Niska attracts the attention of various handsome men, but none seem to have the moral courage to be worthy of her.
Meanwhile deep in the forest live a community of Cree men and woman, who live harmoniously laughing and singing around camp fires. Although the chief elder is a man, it is clearly the matriarchal figure of Grandmother who holds the power. Her vision that a Guardian will come from the North to save them seems fulfilled when Niska appears before them. They want her to help their children escape to the North – though what lies in the North is never explained. Niska agrees but wants help in rescuing Waseese from the Academy. This means returning to the city where there rages a deadly man-made virus. Niska and her companion evade this by tying scarves over the faces. But the more immediate danger to the Cree is a new road the Jingos are building straight towards the Cree land. A battle must ensue.
Night Raiders is a worthy project, winning the Emerging Talent Award in the Toronto International Film Festival (2021). It clearly demonstrates Goulet’s commitment to giving indigenous people creative control over the telling of their stories. Several of the cast are of Cree heritage – and Goulet herself is Cree-Métas. The film comes alive when we are amongst the Cree. But the slow pace and easy resolution of dilemmas results in dullness.
Signature Entertainment presents Night Raiders on Digital Platforms 6th December.