Blood Quantum is an Indigenous Canadian horror movie and the second feature from Mi’gmaq director Jeff Barnaby, following up his 2013 debut Rhymes for Young Ghouls. It screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (T.I.F.F.) in 2019 and is currently streaming on Shudder in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland.
Blood Quantum is set on the Red Crow Reservation in 1981 and opens with local police chief Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) doing his rounds, as weird things start to happen. When Traylor is called back to the police station to bail out his son Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and his friend Lysol / Alan (Kiowa Gordon), it becomes increasingly apparent that a zombie apocalypse is unfolding around them. In an interesting twist to the established zombie rules, it transpires that the Indigenous population are immune to zombie infection. As the zombie threat starts to take hold, the First Nations people establish Red Crow Reservation as a safe haven and start to take in survivors from the general populace, who are not immune. Of course, it’s not all plain sailing for the Indigenous population, as they are still as vulnerable as anybody else to being torn apart by a zombie horde. But it does give them an advantage.
Although Blood Quantum was filmed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and thus not commenting directly on the current state of the world, its timing could not be more appropriate. If nothing else, it lends the film an extra dimension and elevates the tension, with the zombie infection feeling particularly relevant in light of the global pandemic.
Horror, like science fiction, has always been the perfect vehicle with which to convey a message or provide social commentary. From Dawn of the Dead through to Get Out, the genre has proved itself more than capable, and while the zombie movie might feel like it has been taken to its conclusion over the last decade or so, the addition of a First Nations voice to the genre proves it has not.
In an interview with Canada’s Star newspaper, Barnaby cites his inspiration for Blood Quantum as the 1984 documentary Incident at Restigouche, which details armed police raids on the Restigouche Reserve over fishing rights. He was also inspired by George A. Romero’s genre defining classic Night of the Living Dead. Barnaby’s hope is that audiences will research the historical context after viewing the film, an aim that could have been helped if Blood Quantum were even more overt in its message. By including specific references to the historical instances it is commenting on, it would help viewers with a jumping off point.
The opening half hour of Blood Quantum is very strong, with some inventive ideas, a novel approach to revealing the zombie apocalypse and plenty of blood and guts. In fact, the effects work throughout is excellent and gore fiends will definitely enjoy what Blood Quantum has to offer. There are also some really effective animated sequences spliced in, which aren’t a million miles away from the animated sequences in Mandy.
In a nice subversion of the usual zombie rules, which usually dictate that our main characters must avoid being bitten, Blood Quantum’s heroes can and do get bitten all the time. There are no scientists or doctors around to provide answers for the immunity, but in one misanthropic sequence, they surmise that nature is taking revenge against humanity and perhaps the Indigenous population have not been spared, but just forgotten about.
While there are some nice twists and turns in the latter part of the film, and hats are off to Blood Quantum for being unpredictable, it does lose its early momentum when the action moves to the compound. It’s just an unavoidable fact that this survival concept has been so exhaustively explored by the shambling horde of zombie flicks (and specifically The Walking Dead) that arose in the wake of Shaun of the Dead reanimating the genre. While Blood Quantum does bring new ideas and points of view to the table, the story is ultimately a well-trodden tale of zombie survival.
More importantly though, it’s refreshing to hear an Indigenous voice in horror and it’s quite a feat to bring any new idea to the zombie genre. Those less jaded with the zombie movie deluge of the past decade will have a blast with Blood Quantum as it is a well put together, bloody horror movie that ticks all your undead boxes.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Blood Quantum’ is currently streaming on Shudder in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland.