Blood Quantum, 2019.
Written and Directed by Jeff Barnaby.
Starring Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Devery Jacobs and Gary Farmer.
An indigenous community in the early 80s must fend off a zombie invasion.
In the life span of any zombie flick made this side of 1968, shouldering comparisons to the father of the sub-genre, George A. Romero, almost seem a rite of passage. And with good reason, too. After all, it was Romero who first saw the potential in a horde of rabid, flesh-eating undead as a pretty effective means of examining pertinent, prevalent sociopolitical issues. Under the guise of groans, moans and devoured entrails, zombie movies have more than proved their worth: over the years, they’ve left questions of war, racism, consumerist culture and the damage potential of the Batman soundtrack eating away at audiences long after the credits have rolled.
For Canadian filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, it’s a comparison he seems more than happy to embrace. Blood Quantum, his sophomore feature that drew praise at last year’s Toronto film festival, is splattered heavily in sociopolitical subtext. The film’s setting, a fictional indigenous reservation by the name of Red Crow, immediately draws unsettling historical links to North America’s colonial past; a disquiet that begins to take hold long before some recently gutted salmon inexplicably start returning to life.
From there, the film follows the tribulations of a Mi’gMaq family — namely, sheriff Traylor (Greyeyes), his ex-girlfriend Joss (Tailfeathers), their son Joseph (Goodluck) and Lysol (Gordon), Traylor’s delinquent son from a previous relationship — as they navigate family frictions and the bloody beginnings of a zombie apocalypse. After some notably grisly sequences involving childbirth, cannibalism and chainsaws, the film jumps six months to observe the impact the outbreak has had on their lives. Along with a small band of fellow survivors, the family have constructed a makeshift stronghold where they run a tight survival ship consisting of structure, supplies and scant sympathy for outsiders hoping to take refuge there.
While it knowingly operates over genre ground well trodden, Blood Quantum possesses a compelling twist: Red Crow’s First Nation inhabitants are immune to a zombie bite, while the white people around them are not. In doing so, Barnaby paints an intriguing picture of a world in which a community, abused and degraded for so long, takes back authority of their homelands.
But, if its second-act set-up promises an engaging dilemma that deviates refreshingly from a sub-genre saturated in convention, its third act fails to deliver on that promise. As one might predict, things eventually descend into blood-drenched chaos. And while a number of the set pieces are impressively gruesome, they subsequently leave almost all of the narrative’s sub-plots — a teenage pregnancy; a reformed father; a growing rivalry between two step-brothers — defunct of any real emotional investment or depth.
Ultimately, Blood Quantum is best ingested as a generous helping of gory, B-movie exploitation: one with an engrossing high-concept hook and some inventive visuals. Everything else about it, however, feels a little too George A. Romero. Only never quite as good.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_Whatsthemotive for movie musings, puns and cereal chatter.