When Daily Dead announced that April was to be Indie Horror Month, I was psyched to finally have a chance to geek out about Blood Quantum. This is a fantastic movie that came out a couple of years back, but for whatever reason has sort of managed to stay out of the public eye. Which sucks, because this movie is fantastic, and we should all be watching it.
So I queued it up on Shudder and was astounded to see that this movie was dated 2020. Because the last year has been lost to an endless time vortex and I legit thought that this movie was at least two years old. But whatever! It’s still great and everyone still needs to see it, so here we are!
Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, Blood Quantum tells the story of a zombie outbreak from the perspective of the members of the Red Crow reservation in Canada (a fictionalized version of the Mi’gMaq town where Barnaby grew up). What starts out as a few reanimated salmon from a morning’s fishing haul very quickly escalates into a worldwide nightmare, as the dead rise and begin spreading their otherworldly infection at an alarming rate.
The angle that makes Blood Quantum stand apart from its zombie brethren is the fact that the indigenous population carries an immunity that protects them from turning. They can obviously still be killed and ripped apart by the onslaught of the walking dead—so things remain very dangerous—but they are protected from the bites while the rest of the population is not.
Barnaby splits his film over two separate days during the outbreak. He starts out on Day 1, before the chaos hits, giving us time at the outset of the film to get to know our core group of characters. The film centers on Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), sheriff on the reservation. Along with his duties as local lawman, he is also struggling with trying to keep a hold on his teenage son, Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), who is getting closer and closer to adulthood and therefore farther and farther away from the influence of his parents. Traylor and his ex, Joss (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers), are trying their best, but Joseph, despite being a good kid, is easily influenced by his peers and more than comfortable with pushing boundaries.
Joseph has recently learned that his girlfriend, Charlie (Olivia Scriven), a white girl from a nearby town, is pregnant and is trying to adjust to the new expectations that he will have as a father. All the while, his desire to rebel remains strong. He regularly goes out and causes havoc with his older brother, Lysol (Kiowa Gordon). When the film opens, Traylor and Joss have learned the pair’s most recent adventure has landed them in the jail of the town that sits just across the river from the reservation. While the pair wait in a holding cell for their release to come through, their cellmate vomits an Overlook Hotel’s amount of blood and turns violent. This is just the beginning of the horrors to come.
After witnessing the carnage of the initial outbreak, the film jumps forward six months. The indigenous survivors have walled off the reservation and are on guard every second, keeping out both the zombies and those that might have been infected. For the few surviving members of the outside community, the reservation now represents a safe haven. For the residents, it is a home that they fear could be overrun by the undead if a single mistake is made.
It is here that the characters find themselves at odds. Some believe that the only way of survival is to keep everyone who doesn’t carry the immunity out. Others believe that they should try to help whoever comes to their doors. Joseph and Charlie scour the woods and bring back refugees seeking shelter, while Lysol guards the gate and refuses to grant anyone access to the reservation. The shifting power dynamics at play in this story are fascinating from a sociopolitical standpoint, as Barnaby uses his film to explore the historical divide between the North American First Nations peoples and the European settlers that forced their way in.
This conflict further highlights just how rich in character the film is. Some of it gets thrown at the audience pretty fast, but Barnaby does a good job at setting up a community of characters and then showing how that community changes in the aftermath of the outbreak. These people aren’t just thrown in together a la Dawn of the Dead (2004). They know each other from the outset. They grew up together, they have relationships with one another outside of the present circumstances. The cast magnificently pulls this off, making these characters feel lived in from the very beginning. It makes the world of this film that much more rich, as we immediately begin to see the dimensions of the characters populating the story.
Barnaby raises interesting questions related to colonization and the treatment of First Nations people throughout the course of the film. Horror in general, and zombie films in particular, has long been a genre that delivers social commentary on the world from which they come. Blood Quantum is the latest film to do so, and it brings an important and underrepresented perspective to the table.
This film illustrates why it is so important to support diverse filmmakers. Different perspectives are vital and bring new stories and new ways of telling them. They invite new and exciting takes on genre staples, rather than just the same old stuff. Instead of a run-of-the-mill zombie flick, this film delivers an interesting addition to the zombie mythos through its use of immunity while also using that angle to examine historical inequities that continue to affect our society.
In a moment when the zombie genre seems overplayed, Blood Quantum brings a freshness to it (so to speak). It’s smart, it’s thought-provoking, and it tells a new kind of story. It’s also bloody as hell and tons of fun. There are few things in this world as great as a samurai-wielding grandfather (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) making mincemeat out of hordes of the undead. And that is just one of the crazy-ass moments that Blood Quantum delivers.
So if Blood Quantum is a film that managed to slip under your radar over the past year, you’re forgiven. This past year was insane and horrible in ways that nobody could have predicted. But it’s also about time for you to catch up with this fantastic, bloody gem of a film. The zombie genre might feel played out, but maybe it was just looking for a new storyteller to give it a go.
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