Night Raiders: TIFF ’21 Review

Night Raiders director Danis Goulet

Night Raiders highlights the importance of allowing communities to tell their own stories; the danger is familiar and real.

Night Raiders, written and directed by Danis Goulet, is set in a dystopian future yet reflects the past. Indigenous people suffered worldwide from colonialism and genocide. News stories in Canada regarding the horror inflicted on generations of Indigenous people continue coming to light. Night Raiders reflects that past, using it to predict a possible future. The movie is about Niske (Elle-Màijá Tailfeathers), who joins a group of Indigenous vigilantes to rescue her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) from a state-run school. Night Raiders highlights the importance of allowing communities to tell their own stories; the danger is familiar and real.

Niske has been hiding with her child for years. They drift from place to place to prevent Waseese’s inclusion in the Federal Academy. Waseese is also unique; we learn early on. Militaristic drones track and find Indigenous children, and Waseese can sense them. Things take a turn when a hunter’s trap injures Waseese. As her condition worsens, the only way to help her is to hand her over to the state which has the means to provide adequate medical care. Though initially comforted that Waseese will be safe, Niske realizes that care comes at a steep cost. Because by the time she reunites with her daughter, her daughter may see her as an enemy of the state. 

Strong Acting & Story Taps Past

The acting is top-notch. Both Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Brooklyn Lexetier-Hart give heartfelt performances as mother and daughter. Their familial connection left me cheering for them to reunite. Seeing Amanda Plummer as Roberta made me smile. I remember her from other films and shows like Pulp Fiction and Tales From The Crypt. The struggle to provide children with a better life that can also come with the loss of heritage is familiar, but the cost is higher here. Night Raiders crafts a dystopian future using past atrocities, creating a chilling realism. 

Night Raiders director Danis Goulet.
Night Raiders still. Courtesy of TIFF.

In Canada, the past policies, including the residential school system that forced Indigenous children to live and learn there, attempted to sever their ties to their Indigenous roots. Many children in these schools died and were buried in mass graves. Danis Goulet takes this horrible history and crafts a story where children are wards of the state to condition them to love the state, language, and “freedom” provided by their captors. With this conditioning, the policy ensures a death to Indigenous cultures and creates a blockade since when war arises, those children will be on the front lines facing off against their families. 

A Possible Future

Though Night Raiders seems extreme, there are methods of conditioning and indoctrination taking place all around us. They may appear minor at first, but the effects can be long-term and detrimental to children. Children conditioned to love their country above all others create a blind allegiance that refuses to acknowledge a country’s harm. As such, diversity and inclusion allows marginalized communities to tell stories that center them with a unique lens based upon their experiences and heritage.

Night Raiders shows beauty amidst the horror. Although some take comfort in that this story is a work of fiction based on past wrongs, turning on the news cycle should disabuse them of that fact. Destructive cycles repeat when no one stops them. This type of police state can happen anywhere. Rights, in countries deemed the best in the world, get chipped away. Night Raiders is a brilliant film that merges the past with a bleak future if we don’t address that past. 

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