In the early 80’s a zombie virus sweeps the country. Humans, and even some animals, are infected and turned into the walking dead. Yet the people of an isolated Mi’gMaq reserve of Red Crow appear to be immune. Now they must battle the undead while also battling whether or not they should let the white survivors into the reservation.
Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) brings audiences his sophomore feature film as writer, director, and editor of Blood Quantum. The film tackles issues of colonialism in a modern way, allowing horror to act both as a metaphor and as a way to emphasize the message. Blood Quantum opens with a bang, then takes some time establishing the characters living on the reservation. From the beginning it’s clear there is resentment between family members as well as tensions between those on the reservation and those in town. The ensuing chaos of the virus and realization that the Mi’gMaq seems to be immune only exacerbate these deep-rooted issues. There is a constant fear of who you can trust, whether they are from the reservation or not, that ultimately leads to the final confrontation. It allows the film to be suspenseful and gory. Although, there are a few calm, still moments that slow the momentum of the plot a bit too much.
What I love about Blood Quantum is that it’s the kind of film that includes hidden meanings and details specific to indigenous people. There are things I could never fully grasp as a white woman, yet immersing the story in the horror genre allows it to be consumed by a wider audience. It also allows for a learning experience. Much like the subtle nods to various racial issues in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Barnaby forces non-indigenous audiences to learn something from the film. A great example is simply the title of the film, Blood Quantum. After seeing the film, I learned this term refers to a controversial measurement that determines how much indigenous blood you have and whether or not you can become a citizen of a specific tribe. I can only imagine there are other details that went over my head that only add to the metaphors of the film.
Blood Quantum has stunning performances that bring the plot to life. The three stars of the film are a father and his two sons. They represent different points of view on colonialism and interacting with white people. Traylor, the father, is played by Michael Greyeyes (Fear the Walking Dead, True Detective). Greyeyes has a very commanding presence on screen, and his portrayal of Traylor conveys a lot of wisdom. This wisdom shows a wariness towards white people, but also a diplomacy that comes from his position as sheriff where he can easily work with them when needed. Traylor represents the middle ground while his two sons, who are half-brothers, are polar opposites of one other. Kiowa Gordon (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Red Road) plays Traylor’s older son, Lysol. Lysol feels deep-seeded resentment for his father, as well as the white people who live in town. Gordon does a fantastic job of showing the anger build in Lysol throughout the film until it boils over at both the white people on the reservation and his own family. Then there is the youngest son, Joseph, played by Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant, The Miseducation of Cameron Post). Joseph is by far the most hopeful of this trio. Goodluck makes it clear to viewers that Joseph is a caring individual who wants to bring survivors together, whether they are Mi’gMaq or white. All three leads are wonderful on screen, and they create such a fascinating comparison with their different points of view.
The various artistic elements of Blood Quantum add to its overall appeal. The most immediate thing horror fans will notice is the stunning makeup for the zombies and the grotesquely realistic practical effects. There are multiple memorable zombie kills and gory moments that are sure to stick with viewers. To bring the film together, Barnaby and Joe Barrucco (Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Appiness) composed a haunting musical score. It manages to encompass an 80’s synth sound alongside more traditional indigenous sounds. Blood Quantum even includes striking animated scenes that create absolutely gorgeous visuals emphasizing dire events. One thing that seems odd is that the film takes place in 1981. While the clothes, cars, and lack of technology such as cell phones makes it easy to believe the film takes place in the past, it is also unnecessary. The area where the reservation is located is fairly remote, which stands to reason cell phones wouldn’t have great reception. Plus, the plot moves into the apocalypse quickly enough that the lack of technology would barely be noticed. Blood Quantum ends up with a timelessness where, if you didn’t know when it took place, it could easily take place in 1981 or 2020.
Blood Quantum masterfully delivers a social commentary on colonialism in the context of a zombie apocalypse. Barnaby clearly cares about the topic of his film and made sure to bring to life what he wanted by writing, directing, editing, and even co-composing the film. It includes captivating performances from the three male leads and remarkable visuals ranging from extreme gore to gorgeous animation. I won’t pretend I understand all of the various themes discussed. This is the kind of film that likely gets better with each subsequent viewing, particularly if you’re willing to do the research on what inspired these themes.
OVERALL RATING: 7/10