starring Paul Hilton, Romola Garai, Alex Lawther, Romane Hemelaers
written by Lucile Hadžihalilović & Geoff Cox
directed by Lucile Hadžhalilović
starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, Gail Maurice, Amanda Plummer
written and directed by Danis Goulet
by Angelo Muredda Parenting and being looked after are the stuff of nightmares in Lucile Hadžhalilović's genuinely creepy curio Earwig, which is as visually and aurally arresting as it is inscrutable. A cryptic dance between a man named Albert (Paul Hilton) and his ten-year-old charge, Mia (Romane Hemelaers), the film charts their ritualistic and mostly unspoken interactions in a dingy apartment, making us tense witnesses to an unexplained paternal science experiment conducted under the all-seeing eye of a supervisor who phones in his instructions from offscreen, apparently to prepare the girl for whatever is lying in wait for her. That's about all we know, though Hadžhalilović skillfully hangs this threadbare plot on indelible images while evoking our primitive stirrings of anxiety for the future. No small feat, given how little dialogue there is.
Instead of linear progression and traditional characterization, Hadžhalilović favours comically stilted rhythms and surreal, painterly imagery that makes the body twinge with discomfort, particularly whenever Albert carefully replaces Mia's teeth with ice cubes care of a retainer set fresh out of the freezer. (That the dentures fit less and less well as the film goes on constitutes something like narrative headway.) Although Earwig registers as a postwar European riff on both Eraserhead and The Brood, two 1970s body-horror fables about nervous dads by guys named David, in tone it's a singular affair, its mildewy ambience expertly crafted through eerie cinematography and sound design that capture a world shrunk down to two bodies warily circling each other in a laboratory that's also a home.
Caring for the future is a more urgent affair with better delineated cultural stakes in Danis Goulet's comparably straightforward parenting allegory Night Raiders, a confident and dynamic debut that doesn't quite stick its landing. Set in a version of 2043 where children are now property of the state, the film posits Indigenous citizens of this dystopia as Cassandra-like prophets for whom the horrors of the residential school system in Canada are a fresh intergenerational trauma. Enter Niska, a Cree mother (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) who, after surrendering wounded daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) to the state in a moment of weakness, bands together with other Indigenous dissidents to break her out of the re-education centre that's preparing her for some kind of assault on her former community. Though these so-called schools appear to be pushing out child soldiers, re-trained to forget their families and origins, they maintain the illusion of legitimacy through corporate recruitment videos playing on billboards throughout the urban ruins where resisters congregate, one of which features a pearly-white-toothed, blazer-sporting teenager named Pierre, played in a stroke of casting genius by former "Degrassi" lead Eric Osbourne: a blandly handsome poster child for the white ethnostate if there ever was one.
There's a strong, righteously angry postcolonial sci-fi conceit in Goulet's suggestion that the ongoing structural violence faced by Indigenous parents and children makes them the canaries in the coal mine for a new world order where every child is a potential brainwashing victim and future warrior for the state. Night Raiders ultimately feels a bit too programmatic and clean, though, to pay off on its many good ideas and its theme of grassroots resistance, becoming more proof-of-concept than narrative feature. For all its strengths in world-building, it hasn't quite worked out some of the complexities of its dystopia, like the difference between how racialized youth, such as Waseese, and white ones, such as Pierre, are pressed into service by the state. Its many echoes of YA dystopias and mythopoeic stories about prophesied culture heroes also begin to feel exhausting as they stack up, turning characters like Niska and Waseese into a delivery system for genre tropes rather than a fully-fleshed mother and daughter resisting a genocidal world to fashion a better one rooted in community. EARWIG - PROGRAMME: PLATFORM; NIGHT RAIDERS - PROGRAMME: GALA PRESENTATIONS