Night Raiders. 2021
Written and Directed by Danis Goulet.
Starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, Alex Tarrant, Amanda Plummer, Violet Nelson, Gail Maurice, Shaun Sipos, Suzanne Cyr, and Pamela Matthews.
A mother joins an underground band of vigilantes to try and rescue her daughter from a state-run institution.
There is much to appreciate in Danis Goulet’s show don’t tell approach to toss viewers into the deep end of Night Raiders‘ grounded dystopian future (only about 25 years ahead, adding to the terror). Cree mother and daughter Niska and Waseese (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, respectively) are fleeing and evading, avoiding high tech drones that we come to learn are on the lookout for children, which has come to be government property and sent to residential schools where they undergo brainwashing and combat training to be next on the assembly line and shoved into a vague civil war that has ravaged North America.
Their invisibility is thrust into jeopardy when Waseese stumbles into a wildlife trap, injuring her ankle. Slowed down and panicking, Niska reaches a nearby town where she reconnects with a longtime friend, also doubling as a place to stay and heal up. Niska also learns that this friend willingly gave up her child to the government. She reasons that despite the horrific behavior imprinted into their brains, the situation provides a better life than poverty and the neglect indigenous people face. It’s not long before armed forces are searching their way through the town, causing more unrest on Niska, who hastily makes the devastatingly hard decision to turn her daughter in for medication.
From here, Night Raiders flashes forward ten months, setting up some new plot threads that disappointingly abandon the tense, stuck-in-the-thick-of-it oppression that values visualization over exposition, decidedly shifting into not only something formulaic but the standard dime a dozen YA story. The narrative takes this trajectory so far that it enters the realm of fantasy during its climax, severely undercutting the realism and topical commentary at play. Put it this way; Night Raiders has scenes where characters mask up to avoid some virus contributing to this societal collapse, except it was written before the current global health crisis. With that in mind, the ending is only rendered extra strange.
There are still a few intense moments here and there, namely a harrowing sequence involving other characters that push Niska over the edge into realizing that her daughter needs to escape ASAP. Fortunately, that can be done with the assistance of the indigenous titular Night Raiders, a group planning an espionage mission to rescue as many children as humanly possible. The issue with all of this is that Night Raiders expands into something more plot-focused without fleshing out any of its characters or pressing social themes. It simply becomes less interesting, stimulating, and entertaining the longer it goes on.
In a confounding move, Night Raiders doesn’t spend much time in the nightmarish academy itself, which is also frustrating considering some of the more disturbing scenes come from there, especially as the staff manipulates Waseese into becoming a fighter by planting the idea in her head that the lower-class she comes from is comprised of freeloaders with no work ethic and that she was abandoned without reason by her mother. Visually, it resembles just about every other YA dystopian flick out there, but there’s definitely more of an edge here that ends up going to waste. Just about every story element here is in some way underdeveloped and unsatisfying.
However, there is also a sensation that maybe during the thrilling takeover of the school compound, Night Raiders will spring to life once more and come together with spectacle and pathos. Not only is the action itself underwhelming and unforgettable, but again, Night Raiders embraces myth for a befuddling conclusion that doesn’t amount to much of anything. The only constants are the terrific performances and bleak atmosphere throughout, proving that the vibes and talent are there while the narrative itself is flimsy through and through.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com