The last residential school to close in Canada shuttered its doors in 1996. After decades of dispute and compensation from the Canadian government, the discussion on these horrid institutions still appropriately remains. Since the early 17th century, colonialists have been assimilating Indigenous Peoples and their land; for the sake of selfish gain of property and resources. Now more than ever, stories about the legacy of these schools are being brought forward to the public eye. Told by various dedicated Indigenous storytellers, the current momentum of books, art, and even entertainment on the pre-mentioned subject matter is now slowly being more funded/distributed by local administrations and production companies. In the case of Night Raiders — the impressive feature debut from renowned film festival programmer Danis Goulet — the film is a kinetic science-fiction allegory on the aforementioned thematic material.
Goulet’s film opens with plenty of ambiguity, where we follow Niska and Waseese through a desolate dystopia. The once brightly painted and paved walls of a Toronto-looking metropolis is now occupied by a post-war ridden state of decay. As we follow the mother and daughter pairing through the crowded, drone-fearing streets; the more is slowly revealed — not through tiresome exposition, but rather through the power of the moving image. Electronic billboards and casual referencing economises the runtime and pace, as the viewer is slowly gripped into a world of crumbling societal order. It’s also when the film finally reveals its true intentions; the aforementioned parallels of a science fiction atmosphere with the dark colonial backdrop of a residential school narrative.
The film’s direction, while slightly conventional in its science fiction trappings, cleverly employs its allegory with great care and impact. The more Goulet expands on the allegory, the more invigorating, angering, and genuinely emotionally endearing the journey becomes. However, Night Raiders is frequently messy when it attempts to emulate other science fiction genre pieces. At moments, it occasionally borders on insufferable YA movie cliches. For example, the introduction of a virus subplot comes out of left field with not much thought or clever reincorporation The same applies with other menial revelations and even the film’s finale; all of which needed far more breathing room and time for the concepts to be fully developed and integrated into the expansive world building.
But even with the short lived scenes, Goulet’s sophisticated eye for detail and infused allegorical storytelling devices demonstrates plenty of promise for the first-time feature director. Science fiction stories such as Night Raiders should be commended for their intricate historical context and relevance. Especially in a saturated market that favours more safe passion-projects, Goulet’s clever commentary more than satisfies against the film’s frequent shortcomings. But more importantly, Night Raiders will eventually inform international audiences who are not aware of Canada’s history of residential schools, by presenting the material in an enlightening Cree perspective.
Dir: Danis Goulet
Runtime: 97 minutes
Night Raiders premiered in the Panorama program as part of this year’s 71st Berlinale. The film is currently seeking international distribution.