Centring on a dystopian North America where Indigenous children are abducted and placed in state-run institutions to be brainwashed – a detail that recalls the shameful history of Canadian residential schools – this is a cautionary tale from Cree-Métis director Danis Goulet that has the commendable aim of reclaiming sci-fi tropes that recklessly appropriate the trauma of minority groups. But despite these lofty intentions and a wealth of Native American talent, the film follows a highly predictable path where the plight of Indigenous communities never amounts to anything more than simplified metaphors.
Night Raiders follows the arduous journey of Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), a Cree woman regretting her decision to give up her injured daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) to the authoritarian state. The film zigzags between lush forests and sterile cityscapes (where grey skies are darkened by swaths of surveilling drones). A chance encounter with a group of Indigenous vigilantes sweeps Niska into a rescue mission for children – her daughter among them – who are locked inside the ominous academy, where they are trained to be robotic instruments of state power.
Much is made of communal solidarity and spirituality during the planning stages of this dangerous quest, but it only amplifies a glaring thinness in Niska and company’s characterisation; any sense of an inner life is eclipsed by pedestrian thriller plot points. Niska’s double displacement might have been a fertile area for investigation – she encounters systematic discrimination but can’t communicate in Cree with her newfound comrades. Yet all this remains sorely underdeveloped. Solid performances from Tailfeathers and Letexier-Hart can’t elevate a script that is neither effective as straight sci-fi nor a subversion of the genre.
• Night Raiders is on digital platforms from 6 December.