There comes a point in every horror fan’s life where he or she thinks that it’s quite possible they’ve seen every imaginable iteration of a particular genre.
In the 10 years since “The Walking Dead” debuted on AMC and kickstarted an undead revival, zombies have been omnipresent. And while there have been some notable standout feature films (“The Girl with All the Gifts,” “Zoo,” “It Stains the Sands Red”), the bulk of zombie entertainment follows some pretty well-established rules and rarely deviates when it comes to locale and the people trying not to get eaten.
4 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 96 minutes
Maybe that’s why “Blood Quantum” feels so fresh and exciting.
It’s literally the first (and likely only) zombie film I’ve ever seen that considers what an undead uprising might look like from the perspective of an Indigenous population simply trying to protect their reservation and land.
“Blood Quantum” was a surprise title added to the streaming-horror-platform Shudder last week, likely as a gift to the millions of people stranded at home during the coronavirus pandemic, and it is absolutely worth signing up for a free 30-day trial subscription to watch it.
The film from writer-director Jeff Barnaby is packed with amazing visuals, superior practical effects, a ridiculous amount of gore and some much needed attention and context when it comes to marginalized native communities.
“Blood Quantum” distinguishes itself right from jump when Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman), a tribal elder, is spooked to discover that the fish he has just gutted are still flopping around in his bucket. A short time later, his son Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), the reservation sheriff, has a similar experience with a dead wolf in his trunk.
Traylor has two sons. Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), the local malcontent, is by birth. Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), kind and caring, is by his marriage to Joss (Elle- Máijá Tailfeathers).
A central plotline through “Blood Quantum” involves the rift between Lysol and Joseph, both as half-brothers struggling to find common ground and Lysol’s disgust at Joseph’s relationship with a white woman, Charlie (Olivia Scriven), who is pregnant with his child, because that goes against their tradition.
Equally fascinating is the way that Barnaby expands on zombie canon mythology by introducing the idea that certain Indigenous people, at least the inhabitants of the Mi'gMaq reserve of Red Crow near Quebec, Canada, where “Blood Quantum” is set, are immune to the virus that the undead transmit through bites and other wounds.
Barnaby peppers his script with wonderful observations by different tribal members that serve to both educate and elevate “Blood Quantum” high above your normal plague thriller. One elder says that the Earth is an animal, living and breathing, which white man can’t comprehend, and that the dead are coming back to life because the planet is pissed at what humans have done to it.
In the middle of a full-on flesh-munching zombie free-for-all, Barnaby takes time not only to explore what it means to be a First Nations tribal member, but also to slyly inject social commentary about climate change. George A. Romero should be proud.
The third act of “Blood Quantum” alone is better than most full-length horror movies being released today. There’s so much happening and each new twist is fully realized. Family turns on family. Bodies are torn asunder and devoured. Gisigu and his sword take on an entire horde. Life is born and life is ended. Terrible, devastating choices have to be made.
And the final, haunting frame will stick with you, twisting inside your head, and your heart, until you unravel its meaning. And when you do, it hits like a sucker punch.
Imagine having to fight not once, but twice, in your lifetime simply to stay on land that belongs to you. And then consider what it might mean to find yourself adrift, with no land, no heritage, no place to call home anymore.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.