In a world that’s currently being ravaged by a pandemic, it would seem masochistic to say that zombie films have become oddly cathartic during this time. What once used to be an impossible fantasy has now become an all too real reality. From the class and racial divides to those unwilling to admit their own sickness, the parallels between the zombie genre and real-life can be a bit eerie than a person would like. And it can be easy to lose hope in deep analysis of these parallels. However, the best zombie films have a depth of humanity to them that helps to spark a sense of hope even in the grips of the reality that plagues it. Jeff Barnaby‘s BLOOD QUANTUM fits easily into this category of zombie film while also introducing a much-needed perspective in the genre.
The first thirty minutes of the film is a great build-up in terms of introducing the zombie virus into the realm of the story. Starting from the least suspected animal to the townies, we experience the trickle effect Mother Nature has delivered by working the virus into the various branches of the ecosystem before all hell breaks loose. It is through this slow build-up that we are introduced to those living on the Mi’gMaq Red Crow reservation. Things are tense on the reservation as is. You have the constant divide between the townies and those on the reservation. And tensions between neighbors on the reservation are abundant. But the main focus and heart of the film is on one family unit. It becomes immediately clear the familial tension could be cut with a butter knife. With multigenerational differences in world views and subtle and not-so-subtle nods to systemic and social trauma, the drama between family members is weighty and has a major impact on events as the film jumps forward six months post-outbreak. To preserve the remainder of the plot, I’m going to stop here so as to keep spoilers at a minimum.
To be perfectly blunt, I adored this film. From a completely personal perspective, I am not a huge fan of the zombie genre. With the exception of a few films, the majority of them blend together to me. However, BLOOD QUANTUM has just so much to munch on that it reinvigorates the genre while also introducing a culture many are just not familiar with. For many non-indigenous viewers, there will be a lot that will go over your head, including the significance behind the title of the film. From the opening settler saying, there was an immediate clicking in my brain when I remembered the system the title was referring to. Originally established by the federal government, it’s served as a measurement of how much Indigenous blood you have. Barnaby’s creative approach to this system helps display the importance of the measure of blood and the preservation of a people. A system created initially to limit citizenship, the measurement of this blood serves to aid as it is discovered early on in BLOOD QUANTUM that the Mi’gMaq are immune to this zombie virus. I might be reading too much into this, but I thought it was a creative way to not only introduce this system to an unfamiliar audience while also increasing the stakes later on in the film.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the performances from the cast of BLOOD QUANTUM. Everyone is on point, especially the three lead male characters. Michael Greyeyes (“Fear the Walking Dead“) immediately draws all eyes onscreen as Traylor. His position as sheriff puts him in a strange middle ground between the townies and his people, but it is a position that gives him a power to mediate with them when needed. The added layer of him being a mostly absentee father to his two sons, Lysol and Joseph, paints a complicated character rather than reduces him to the trope commonly seen in sheriff roles. While Traylor represents the cautious middle ground that is typically found with age and knowledge, his two sons represent two opposing personalities and viewpoints that come into direct conflict with one another as the film progresses.
Kiowa Gordon‘s Lysol showcases a character heavily impacted by intergenerational trauma and the foster system (which, while immensely shitty to mostly everyone, is much worse for indigenous peoples and people of color). Between all of that and grappling with Traylor’s absenteeism, Lysol’s anger and resentment towards his father, half-brother, and the white townies make all too much sense. And, while I may be the odd one out in this, I can’t entirely fault his actions and behavior. On the flip side, Forrest Goodluck’s Joseph represents a more hopeful view. While reconciling his fears of impending fatherhood, he also wants to help everyone impacted by the zombie virus. This puts him directly at odds with his half-brother, Lysol, who views Joseph’s pregnant white girlfriend Charlie (Olivia Scriven) as the enemy along with the rest of the other white individuals who have found their way to the isolated reservation. To see each of these three characters and their perspectives play out, it is fascinating to see which philosophy perseveres in the end and how the different generations of men influence one another.
It wouldn’t be a proper zombie-related review without discussing the visuals. The gore was aplenty and Barnaby did not hesitate to paint the town red – literally – with that FX blood. While there was a lot of gore, it wasn’t so much that it ventured into cheesy territory. It didn’t distract, but it also showed the sheer vitality of these flesh-hungry critters. While the film itself is based in the early ’80s, the set design and such were done in such a way that it could easily pass for a story set today. This adds to a certain timely relevance to the film while also helping the audience transport themselves mentally and grounding themselves into the world that Barnaby has created. However, one element that I thought served as a weird transitional tool in the film’s story was the animation sequences. While absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking in its power, I thought it almost served as an odd hard pause between acts. I might be the outlier when it comes to this but, considering everything else I’ve discussed, it’s a rather minor quibble when taking into account the entire film.
While the thought of another zombie film may push you away right now, I implore everyone to go see BLOOD QUANTUM. From the well-executed storyline to the impactful, multi-layered performances from the cast to showcasing much necessary social commentary concerning colonialism and so much more, this film is a must-see. And, if you’re not a fan of zombie films, I’d argue that the real heart of the film is in its character-building. By the end of the film, your heart will weep for everyone and I think that says more than what I can properly convey in words. All I want to do is talk about this film, so I need you all to go watch it. And, as a general sidebar, I am probably going to give up fish after watching this film. You’ll understand why after you watch the movie.
BLOOD QUANTUM is available now to view on Shudder.