By Adam Ray Palmer
From the Tina documentary yesterday, to a dystopian thriller today – this can only be a festival combination.
The 71st edition of the Berlinale is well underway and today we bring you the Canadian/New Zealand outfit, Night Raiders.
Night Raiders focuses on a core group of vigilantes in a post-apocalyptic future. They reside in a military-controlled North America where their children are considered state property. If captured, the children are separated from their parents and are trained in boarding school type camps to fight for the regime.
We follow central protagonist Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), a member of the Indigenous Cree people, and her eleven-year-old daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) as they spend their time ducking and diving in a forest trying to escape the constant security drones that are permanently swarming overhead. It doesn’t take long for things to fall apart when Waseese injures her leg and is whisked into the government’s care *cough* regime. Niska has no option and decides to join First Nations underground organisation who are determined to rescue their abducted children.
Writer-director Danis Goulet’s feature debut is one to be applauded on two accounts. Firstly, the cinematic feel you get from Night Raiders versus the minimal budget Danis had is nothing short of brilliance. It really feels like a production and one that should be viewed on a big screen. The second amount of praise is for not fully falling into the dystopian sci-fi genre. There’s more of a dramatic and humanising theme here which really hangs throughout the whole runtime. But with that praise also comes a negative, Night Raiders feels most of the time more thoughtful than it is exciting.
There are clear inspirations here with this Black Mirror style of filmmaking, most notably those of Hunger Games and Children of Men. There’s even a bit of the Divergent series here as Waseese battles her inner self within the regime. I think Children of Men is the biggest muse though, playing out it’s similar narrative nearly like for like with the ‘guardians’ protecting their children. Like the Alfonso Cuarón thriller, there’s a large amount of build-up sequences with a climatic twenty minutes.
And that’s just it for me, whilst the makeup of this movie is impressive and I understand what Goulet wants to achieve, it just feels too unoriginal; and no way near the Clive Owen-anchored masterpiece in 2006. The story’s finale is predictable but also uninspired on screen. It severely peters out after some lacklustre suspense sequences. We are promised so much, but the climax doesn’t do Night Raiders many favours.
I always enjoy dystopian movies, whether they are made on a shoe-string budget or a multi-million-dollar production set; they always have me intrigued. Ever since I was a teenager, I was obsessed with The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; and Night Raiders certainly has elements of that running through it. Society has been ravaged and they must fight the regime to stand a chance of ultimate survival – but it just doesn’t quite hit the mark for me as a complete package.
Cineroom’s rating: 3 stars
Night Raiders premiered at the Berlinale on 2nd March 2021 and is released in June 2021 in Europe – certificate 15