Canadian film

Blood Quantum

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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

Game of Death

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A group of spoiled rich friends partying at a lake house stumble upon a strange game. The box says it is called the “Game of Death.” The group decides to play the game as a joke. When the strange game takes a bit of each player’s blood and says they have to kill 24 people to survive, the friends leave the game and go back to their drugs and alcohol. Soon it becomes explosively clear that if they don’t play the game and kill 24 people before time runs out, it will be the friends who lose their lives.

The concept for Game of Death is definitely a fun and interesting one. The idea that if these kids don’t do as the game says it will kill them makes for an exciting ride. It is almost like a horror version of Jumanji with a hint of Battle Royale mixed in. Unfortunately, that is about where the good plot points end. The two biggest flaws in this film are the characters and the dialogue. In horror films there are often characters that are despicable for various reasons. These are the characters you don’t care as much about, so when they get killed it’s more of a relief than anything else. This is how every character in the film is written. None of them have any redeeming qualities that make you care whether they live or die. When the whole point of the film is life and death, it makes the events that follow feel rather lackluster. The dialogue between the characters is also a bit cringeworthy. It is very choppy sounding and forced, almost as if you are watching a soap opera. It is unfortunate that such a promising idea falls short of its potential because of these factors.

Whether because of the writing or not, the acting is yet another shortcoming of Game of Death. I have a feeling the various young actors in this film are perfectly fine in other roles, but because of the characters they play and the lines they are forced to deliver there is not one among them that I can say I enjoyed. At the same time I don’t think I can say any one of them was terrible either, another sign that this is more due to the writing than anything else. Of the entire cast the most enjoyable performance came from Erniel Baez Duenas (19-2) as the pizza delivery boy and drug dealer, Tyler. Even though he is a drug dealer, Tyler is the least revolting of the characters. Duenas does a good job of making Tyler the most relatable character as well because he wants to survive, but he also seems to be the one with the biggest conscious of the group. Beyond that, it is hard to find another character or performance that doesn’t make me cringe at least twice.

One of the best aspects of this film is the visuals. The opening sequence is particularly gorgeous. The filmmakers went with an eighties-inspired video game look for the credits. As I watched them it made me hopeful for the rest of the film. Another instance of great visuals is a strange killing spree montage. Here the filmmakers implemented many different animated styles to show two of the characters having a grand time killing people for the game, without actually showing any real violence. This was probably one of the smartest moves made in the film. It shows some restraint in what could have otherwise been a complete gorefest. The few practical effects of the film are also surprisingly beautiful. Without giving too much away, the way the kids playing the game are killed if they fail to kill someone else in time is quite graphic. The practical effects for those kills are incredibly well done and create some horrific imagery.

Game of Death is a fun concept for a horror film that leaves a lot to be desired. The writing is the most unfortunate part of the film, but looking at the other credits of the writers for the most part this is the first (or one of the first) film each of them have written. That leaves room for growth, so don’t necessarily write them off just for this film. If you can make it through the regrettable dialogue and the repugnant characters, at the very least you will get to see some fascinating visuals scattered throughout.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10