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TIFF Review: ‘Night Raiders’ is Dystopian Science Fiction Born Out of the Real-Life Horrors of Canada’s Shameful Past

September 21, 2021Ben MK

Look closely at the history of any nation and you're likely to find some dark moments. Be it war, famine or genocide, these moments have a way of staying with us. And while some might find it easy to carry on as if nothing had happened, for those affected, moving past the trauma requires more than simple acknowledgement. Sometimes it requires sharing one's story in a way that can only be achieved through art — and it's something writer-director Danis Goulet sets out to do in Night Raiders.

A dystopian sci-fi tale inspired by the horrific legacy of Canada's residential school system, the film finds its setting in the year 2043, where a North American civil war has torn apart the continent, leading to the merging of the United States and Canadian governments. Now formally known as the State, this new governing body rules with an iron fist, sending drones into what remains of the country's cities to locate any minors who have not been turned in for registration. These children are then taken from their parents and sent to State-run institutions, where they are given new names and subjected to intense psychological conditioning. But when the 11-year-old daughter of a Cree woman named Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) is captured and sent to one such facility, she must team up with a band of Indigenous freedom fighters in order to infiltrate the State's defenses and bring her child home.

Drawing inspiration from The Hunger Games series and, to a lesser extent, The Matrix franchise, what follows won't earn high marks for originality. Nonetheless, there's no question that the result is more than just the sum of its parts. After all, the sci-fi genre is all about finding the alien in the familiar. And while the story may be fiction, it's the parallels to the atrocities of Canada's real-life past that make Night Raiders worth watching.

Night Raiders screens under the Gala Presentations programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 1 hr. 41 min.

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