Presented in lush and vivid animation is the image of a pregnant Indigenous woman tied to the earth. Her fetus growing in its waters, with bright green vein-like strands connecting them. There’s animation, Indigenous imagery, like this a few times throughout Jeff Barnaby’s second feature film, but the distant lights of a town is a reminder of sacred land lost.
Blood Quantum is a Canadian feature set in and around the isolated Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow in 1981. The title refers to, as the press notes state, the colonial policy of “determining indigeneity based on the percentage of your indigenous heritage.” If you have anything less than 50% of Indigenous blood quantum, you cannot call yourself Indigenous. It’s a law of cultural extermination, risking assimilation, that has yet to be itself killed. But in Barnaby’s film, Indigenous blood is power and provides immunity to the film’s zombie plague.
Fish are still alive after they’ve been gutted; a dog is still alive after it’s been shot; a white man is eating a farmer’s live chickens. These are the first signs of poison. First brought to the attention of the tribal sheriff, Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), this infection soon comes close to home as Traylor’s ex, and mother of his son, Joss' (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) co-workers at the neighboring town’s hospital begin going mad, eating everyone in sight. While the source of this infection is never identified, there’s a clear pattern: only white folks are becoming zombified. This isn’t good for Traylor and his family, as his son Joseph's (Forrest Goodluck) pregnant girlfriend, Charlie (Olivia Scriven), is white. Flash forward six months and the town is now in devastation. The reserve has become fortified, dystopian in appearance. It feels like balance has been restored as the land is seemingly back in Indigenous hands. But as citizens fleeing infected communities flock to the reserve seeking safe haven, the Mi'gmaq must decide whether to let outsiders in, thus risking an outbreak, or leave them to die.
The film is a fight for survival that turns into a gruesome bloodbath. The last 30 minutes alone are like a tension-filled survival horror game where you’re trapped and surrounded by dozens of undead. Their snarls echoing in your ears, and their footsteps getting closer and closer. It has a rock style in its look and in its soundtrack. The acting delivered by some members of the cast, and the film’s dialogue, is pretty hit or miss, but the violent, shocking, and satisfying thrills make up for it.
Above all, though, are the themes that make the film so hard-hitting. Under all of these walking corpses is a re-examination of colonialism and how Native Americans felt to be faced by these foreign, violent men out for blood. It’s also very contemporary as it addresses xenophobia and how the government, specifically the United States’ “us versus them” mentality is incredibly dangerous and damaging. But also, simply, how the planet is sick of our shit and is fighting back.
Blood Quantum may have the biggest budget ever for an Indigenous-directed film made in North America (maybe even the world), but its overall plot feels quite generic for the genre; however, its incorporation of Indigenous imagery and culture, and overall representation, makes this zombie horror feel like something special.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
Editor's Note: In a surprise move, Shudder has just released Blood Quantum on its US, UK, and Ireland streaming services, so subscribers should have access to watch this movie right now if interested.