Night Raiders 2021 Film Review

Night Raiders (2021), directed by Danis Goulet | FEATURE FILM REVIEW

Empires were terrible, weren’t they? Truly horrible things. But for some of us they were terrible in an abstract way. Stuff that happened in the past, something…other.

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Black and white photos in frayed history books sanitised for white eyes. They’re a hard and ugly truth that is difficult to confront and explain to those (like me) who have never experienced colonization or its consequences first-hand.

Night Raiders (2021): a dystopian sci-fi drama

So it is that the dystopian sci-fi drama Night Raiders (2021) sets out its stall – putting a modern sci-fi lens on practices that, tragically, did happen and, even more appalling, are still happening today.

Night Raiders (2021) follows Nisa, played with a grim determination by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who has been surviving in the wilderness with her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart).

Danis Goulet Night Raiders 2021
Gail Maurice as Ida in the Sci-Fi/Drama/Thriller film, “NIGHT RAIDERS,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

A difficult choice made amidst drones and patrols

They’re hiding from the ever-watchful drones and patrols from the state of Emerson, who have occupied their home nation following a war between the two. When Waseese suffers an accident Nisa is forced to give her up so she can receive medical attention in Emerson, breaking the hearts of mother and daughter alike.

So, when approached by a local rebel group with a chance to redeem herself and get her daughter back, Nisa drops everything to see it through.

Indigenous Sci-fi

This is a grim, desaturated future.

Re-education camps lie hidden behind fences, new diseases are running rampant, children are snatched from their parents (dubbed freeloaders by Emerson’s riot clad police force) and drones buzz about as an omnipresent threat.

Most concerning is that when children are seen again by their parents, they’re part of Emerson’s occupying force and are turning on their own people, having been brainwashed by the state with a pledge of allegiance that’s enough to make the Alt-Right swoon.

Violet Nelson Night Raiders 2021
Violet Nelson as Somonis in the Sci-Fi/Drama/Thriller film, “NIGHT RAIDERS,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Slow paced world building

This film is a checklist of all the horrible things that have been done to native cultures around the world presented through the lens of indigenous sci-fi.

Border fences (and the horror of the border patrols), the re-education of aboriginal peoples by colonial invaders, the Standing Rock protests, the (continued) use of drones on civilians in the war on terror and the militarisation of the police are all touched upon here. Their presence is never heavy-handed, which is appreciated as with so much to reference this could weigh the film down and crush you. It doesn’t.

Writer-Director Danis Goulet ensures that these touchstones are presented to you without comment. This has been the characters’ lives for so long it’s just background noise at this point. Nisa is just trying to live her life in peace and stay alive and her journey from just living to being alive is an engaging and multifaceted one.

Danis Goult Night Raiders 2021
[L-R] Gail Maurice as Ida and Violet Nelson as Somonis in the Sci-Fi/Drama/Thriller film, “NIGHT RAIDERS,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“We’re still here”

Night Raider (2021) is a film that points out the terrible things being done to Native cultures but also examines that culture itself.

For example, Nisa doesn’t know her own language and rebel member Leo, played with justified anger by Alex Tarrant, seems to have diplomatic immunity, wealth and access to his own vehicle, a rarity in this world.

All of this gives him a freedom of movement his fellow natives can only dream of, rendering him a bit of a ‘champagne socialist’ as he lectures Nisa on her lack of connection to her people.

This interplay of characters and tropes adds to the complexity of Night Raiders (2021). Its characters and world are fascinating and engaging.

Omnipresent threat

But this comes at a cost: Night Raiders (2021) is so intent on creating this world and taking us on a tour that it never quite gets started.

When Nisa finally meets Leo, some 40 minutes into the film, things begin to take off but by this point several story threads and characters are in play that don’t get resolved in any meaningful way.

There’s also a spiritual element to Night Raiders (2021) that never quite lands. A Chekov’s gun that, when it goes off, feels like a cop out. A story running out of time and wrapping things up too quickly. The drones too, the omnipresent threat, never truly manifest as such – with Nisa easily handling them whenever they appear.

But this is fridge logic. Something to mull over on the car ride home or when doing the dishes after the fact.

At the time, Night Raiders (2021) chugs along nicely at its own pace, showing us its atrocities without fanfare in a way that makes the plight of its characters and world fascinating and painful without being heavy handed.


Editor & Artwork: Richard Williams

3.5 out of 5 stars