From an outsider’s perspective, a boarding school looks like a beautiful olive branch from the government to those in need. But from an insider’s perspective, these schools are far from looking like a helping hand. In Canada, government officials use this system to force Indigenous peoples to assimilate into a more mainstream culture. Quite frankly, the difference between a residential school and a prison is almost nonexistent, and it is aggravating that this first example of systemic racism has lasted for over a century. So it’s not much of a surprise to see someone take this broken system and make it the backbone of a dystopian room like Raiders of the night.
As with most dystopian pieces, Raiders of the night asks a big question: what would the future look like if residential schools never went away? Based on the final results, the answer seems to be “the future would be pretty bleak”. In 2043, a woman named Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) attempts to protect her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) from the clutches of the state. Eventually, they reach a point where they can no longer run. So, in a last minute decision, Niska gives up and lets the state capture Waseese. Heartbroken by this decision, Niska does everything she can to get it back. This includes doing a favor to a vigilante group and working alongside a man named Leo (Alex Tarrant).
The film has the chance to focus on a societal problem that plagues an entire country. However, writer / director Danis Goulet blackmail this concept through drama. One of the main side effects of residential schools on children is the loss of their original personality. What was once a kind and loving person is now someone who cares about a Higher Power and no one else. And it’s this tragic transformation that fuels the film’s best dramatic scenes. There is a point when Niska’s friend Roberta (Amanda Plummer) talks to her son for the first time in years. But since her son is now a vessel for the government, he can only interact with her as if she were a stranger.
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Raiders of the night also benefits from its distinct perspective of the world. Although it begins as a tale about a mother and daughter, it becomes more about the lives of various indigenous peoples. On the one hand, the vigilantes who meet Niska are indigenous. Most importantly, they have their own opinions on how to survive in the harsh landscape. Instead of keeping a fortress at their current location, they want to move north to establish a safe space. They know that the terrain on which they find themselves will have some influence from the government. So to free themselves, their best option is to go elsewhere.
We can also see this perspective through Waseese’s eyes. While at the Children’s Academy, an authority figure explains why the system is in place. And the more the authority figure explains it, Waseese sees through the fragility of his arguments. Finally, Waseese exclaims that his people are more capable than the government thinks they are. To a certain extent, these are characters that crudely state the themes of the film. At the same time, this scene shows that transforming a child into a human-shaped vessel doesn’t happen overnight. As a result, Goulet manages to carefully weave the message of the film through the characters themselves.
None of this is aesthetically revealing. If anything, the dustings of futuristic technology over forest areas and dusty streets are reminiscent of the Hunger games movies. Still, the sparse approach fits well with the dark tone of the story. Cinematographer Daniel Grant fills the film with oppressive grays and shaky camera work, and the two do a great job of anchoring it in a modified reality. As for the music, composer Moniker makes the most of the buzzing notes. Although it lacks a strong melody, the mood it sets is effective enough to create tension.
It is easy to imagine Raiders of the night like nothing but a tedious message movie. But thanks to Goulet, the film works like a science fiction play that knows how to develop its characters. Not only that, but he also uses the concept of residential schools as a construction of a disturbing world. Top that off with assured performances from Tailfeathers and Letexier-Hart and you’ve got a movie that breaks the hurdle on a low budget. In no way would I call it a masterpiece. But for a first-time feature filmmaker, it’s the kind of project that only raises hope for Goulet’s future endeavors. – Marc Tan
Raiders of the nightThe release date for has yet to be announced.