Indigenous freedom fighters take on a dictatorial regime in this rousing New Zealand/Canadian co-production made by indigenous talent from both countries.
The film is set several decades in the future following a "civil war" that has rendered North America a dystopian slum where the haves are separated from the have-nots by an enormous wall. Weaponsed flying drones patrol the streets (and occasionally drop tainted food parcels) and all minors (there aren't many) are forcibly conscripted into government-run training academies where they are brainwashed into being oppressors for the militarised state.
Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), a Cree woman, through a lifetime of wiles and cunning, has managed to keep her pre-teen daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) away from a grim life in the training academy. But when Waseese's leg is injured in a bear trap, Niska must give her up to the authorities to ensure she receives the medical care she needs to survive.
A year later, Niska falls in with an indigenous group using guerilla tactics to fight against the authorities in an attempt to preserve their way of life. They say they can help her rescue her daughter, and some of them believe Niska to be a prophesied "guardian" that will lead the children to a rumoured safe haven. But Niska is only concerned about Waseese.
Māori filmmakers Chelsea Winstanley (Merata: How Mom Decolonised the Screen) and Ainsley Gardiner (Cousins) are producers on the film, and Taika Waititi (who was nominated for an Oscar alongside Winstanley for producing Jojo Rabbit) has an executive producer credit. It was written and directed by Danis Goulet, a Cree-Métis filmmaker from Canada.
The impetus to provide an indigenous perspective on the dystopian sub-genre bears fruit in how it recontextualises the injustices being portrayed. Without this extra layer of meaning, the film could be easily lumped in with any number of inconsequential mid-level sci-fi actioners along these lines, but the point of difference elevates the proceedings considerably.
The metaphors may not be subtle, but they pack a wallop. When Niska relinquishes her daughter to her oppressors in the name of the girl's immediate well-being, it is a heart-wrenching moment that greatly informs every subsequent action.
Also of note is the presence of Māori actor Alex Tarrant (Vegas, 800 Words) as Leo, a Māori character fighting alongside the First Nations guerillas. As Niska observes at one point, he is "a long way from home", but Leo explains that he goes "where he's needed". You'll swell with pride seeing the quietly bad-ass Leo take care of business. He has one especially cool big moment involving a haka that recalls a similarly awesome scene featuring Cliff Curtis from the 1999 sci-fi movie Virus.
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Night Raiders can't quite live up to the production values of clear inspirations such as Children of Men and The Handmaid's Tale, but it makes up for the lack of a big budget with attitude and righteousness.
Cast: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, Amanda Plummer
Director: Danis Goulet
Rating: M (Violence & offensive language)
Running time: 97 minutes
Verdict: A fresh perspective on some familiar sci-fi tropes.