It starts with a blank screen and a legend told in the Cree language, a prophecy telling of a saviour coming from the North to guide their people to safety. The setting of what opens like a western turns out to be something equally familiar, the post-dystopian landscape of a North America torn apart by war. But in Night Raiders, writer/director Danis Goulet takes us into a different headspace, one that examines the treatment of indigenous populations.
After a brutal war, a totalitarian regime has taken hold, distributing food supplies from the air by swarms of drones and claiming the nation’s children as their own from an early age. While their parents comfort themselves with the thought that they’re having a better life than the adults – decent food, shelter, education – the reality is that they’re being trained to continue the fight and root out subversion. Niska (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) has been living off the land for some years in an effort to save her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) from this fate, but circumstances force her to give up the girl. Continuing her wanderings, she encounters a camp of First Nations Cree, who offer her a way of freeing her daughter.
A co-production between Canada and New Zealand, the film lists Taika Waititi as an executive producer, but the tone is far from the mischievous wit that’s become his trademark. This is altogether more low-key, more sombre and with those characteristic grey landscapes and skies that go with the post-dystopian world. This slow-burner is very much a film of two halves, the first creating the backdrop, the dilemma and the underlying themes, with the heart of the action lying in the second as we see the harsh reality of the military academy, the mother’s attempt to free her daughter and the fulfilment of the prophecy, but perhaps not quite in the way we anticipate. A sense of foreboding lingers over the entire proceedings, but there is a defiance not just in the actions of the Cree tribe but also in their culture and oral tradition, that refuses to be wiped out.
While the overall tone often is stuck on one note, Goulet’s creation of an unforgiving world is full of intricate details and the performances impressive, especially from Tailfeathers who anchors the film with her quiet courage. It’s a tough story but one told with skill and by a name to watch for.
Drama, Sci-fi | Cert: tbc | Berlin Film Festival | Dir. Danis Goulet| Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, Amanda Plummer, Alex Tarrant.