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‘Night Raiders’ review: Sci-fi thriller carries future warnings

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

For her dystopian drama “Night Raiders,” writer-director Danis Goulet imagines a 2043 version of North America that looks like an only slightly exaggerated version of 2020 Ontario, Canada, where the film was shot. Although Goulet’s film is ultimately better at scene-setting than storytelling, the world she builds is a remarkably detailed, revealing reflection of our own.

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers stars as Niska, who at the start of the story is living off the grid, surreptitiously raising her adolescent daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) in a society where most children are confined to militarized institutions. After Waseese suffers a crippling injury, Niska reluctantly brings her to a divided city, where an imposing wall keeps the poor, the Indigenous and the politically left-wing penned in squalor.

Under the advice of her friend Roberta (Amanda Plummer), Niska surrenders her daughter to the state so the girl can get medical treatment. She later has second thoughts when she meets the Night Raiders, Cree vigilantes dedicated to freeing kids from the government academies before they become brainwashed soldiers. While Niska is plotting a rescue, Waseese works to liberate herself, demonstrating strengths that draw unwanted attention from her new guardians.

“Night Raiders” is an episodic film, with a few big action set-pieces (featuring surprisingly polished special effects, given the modest budget) strung together by long dialogue scenes. Frankly, those talkier segments stall some of the narrative momentum, and “Night Raiders” never really builds in intensity, as it should. The characters spend more time looking back than taking action in the present.

But the movie has a fully realized look and tone, imagining the potential end result of any political schism that requires isolating and demoralizing the opposition. Inevitably, the barriers between people increase, becoming more and more complicated, artificial and dehumanizing.

The most effectively dramatic scenes in “Night Raiders” examine how these circumstances create a dilemma for parents like Roberta and Niska, who wonder if the only way to create a better life for their children is to sever ties completely. Though set in the near future, this film feels like an urgent warning, illustrating what might happen if a younger generation is cut off from its own history and culture.

‘Night Raiders’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 12, Laemmle Glendale; also available via Laemmle Virtual Cinema

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