I am a sucker for a zombie film, especially given the current boom of non-white zombie stories in recent years. Train to Busan and Seoul Station were excellent zombie films that delivered distinctly Korean perspectives on the undead, while the Shudder original The Dead Lands created a distinct Maori period piece revolving around the undead. Now with Blood Quantum, we are presented with a zombie film rooted firmly in the experiences and perspective of the First People of Canada.
Blood Quantum is a Canadian production under Prospector Films, written and directed by Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls). The film stars a primarily indigenous cast including Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, and Kiowa Gordon. Blood Quantum is currently streaming on Shudder.
What Worked With Blood Quantum?
The film has a Romeroesque quality to it in how it explores the ways zombies exacerbate existing divisions in communities. The town of Red Crow, of the Mi’gMaq reserve on the border of Quebec and New Brunswick, experiences the first moments of the rise of the dead in a few haunting scenes that establish the characters and setting of 1981 Canada. The film introduces the apocalypse and then jumps forward six months later with a revelation: whatever is causing the dead to rise doesn’t affect the First People. That’s going to have repercussions among the white and indigenous communities. The film is not so much about the zombies, but this is expected when something is in the vein of Romero.
Instead, the film is an exploration of some complex indigenous characters set against the backdrop of a horrific pandemic and the pressures it exerts on a people who have already greatly suffered at the hands of the white man. Only now the white man is just a deadly even in death. It’s all very interesting material that is wrapped up in some fun zombie deaths here and there. The film’s anticolonial commentary is quite obvious but none-the-less interesting; white people enter the lands of the First People, only this time the disease they bring does not affect the First People as prior pandemics. Hell, even the title of the film evokes racist blood quantum laws: measures used to determine native identity by percentages of ancestry.
The performances are solid across the board with Michael Greyeyes and Stonehorse Lone Goeman portraying two of three generations of the central indigenous family. Goeman’s Gisigu in particular delivers a rather iconic character, evoking a stoic samurai in his approach to dispatching the undead and his general wisdom and selflessness. Greyeyes’s Tralyor evokes the sort of authority one expects of a Rick Grimes character, but with an even more weary outlook given his and his people’s circumstances even prior to the outbreak.
As far as the gore, it is well executed but with some clunky CGI in some scenes. CGI is not unusual for zombie films, but the dodgy CGI comes early on with a shocking fish scene, ultimately undercut by the execution. Some distance shots of zombies movie with a level of “jank” more associated with low-framerate animation in some videogames as well. Overall though, these small moments do not get in the way with the amount of blood and gore necessary for a zombie film.
What Didn’t Work With Blood Quantum?
While solid overall, the film tries to accomplish a lot and unfortunately does not stick the landing with a few of its narrative points. The split between the first days of the virus and six months later is novel, but it doesn’t exactly provide viewers with enough time to really get to know the characters. The cast is very large, and while a large cast is not a problem, it becomes a bit tough to juggle different plotlines and motivations without enough time to really focus on the characters.
The central relationship between the brothers is one of those elements that feels a bit lacking. The pain that Lysol faces and leads to his actions is readily apparent, which is a credit to the performance, and we very briefly get a tease of the systemic abuse he faces when he talks to Joseph about why he was in jail during the first stage of the outbreak. It is equally hilarious and heartbreaking and represents a broken system. If only the rest of the characters were given these moments. Joseph, in comparison, is little more than a spark for conflict compared to his troubled brother, even with his relationship with his pregnant white girlfriend.
Ultimately, there is just too much story, both on the character level and the macro-level to cover sufficiently in a relatively lean hour and a half runtime. Stylistic elements, such as the few animated features hint at something larger but ultimately do not amount to much in the film as it stands. With any luck, the film proves successful enough for a sequel or, perhaps more appropriate, a television series. It is a fascinating world that we get glimpses of in the film and deserves to be explored further.
As a whole, Blood Quantum is an excellent twist on the zombie genre and dense with meaning and allusion. The film is a well-executed statement on the legacy colonialism and feels remarkably relevant to our current pandemic climate. However, issues with pacing, a large cast, and perhaps too much story spread too thin drag it down a bit.(4 / 5)
For more coverage of zombie films, check out other reviews under the Zombie tag.