Saturday, May 2

Blood Quantum Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Jeff Barnaby
Starring: Forrest Goodluck, Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kiowa Gordon, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs & Stonehorse Lone Goeman
Shudder Original – April 23, 2020

Set on the Miꞌkmaq Red Crow Reservation in 1981, a mysterious virus is reanimating dead salmon in the communal waterways. Within the first hours of this discovery, the outbreak quickly spreads to the surrounding human population. Ravenous infected quickly and violently attack and consume anyone they can get to, rapidly spreading the infection.

A title card flashes us forward six months to the new reality. It turns out, the Indigenous Miꞌkmaq appear to be the only known immune population. They have make-shifted a camp, offering refuge for the survivors and a quick disposal for the remaining infected. But as we soon find out, not everyone is so ready to welcome in a vulnerable population of colonizers. As the community tears apart over their differences, Joseph (Goodluck) tries to keep his pregnant girlfriend and their unborn baby safe from both sides.

It’s been pontificated that Nazis and Zombies are the two groups that any filmmaker could kill with impunity. If you just want to compose a fun ninety minutes of cool death scenes, add a horde of either and no one will bat an eye. Nobody will complain about gratuitous violence or that the villains weren’t given enough complexities or inner struggles. Parts of this film feel just that skin deep. I have no grievance with this, mind you. The practical effects were very well done and I’ll bet this was a fun set to be on.

On the other hand, the great genre filmmakers have always been able to use the threat of a mindless mass as a metaphor to invoke provocative social commentary. Romero’s films did this always and to great effect. It’s in this way that BLOOD QUANTUM shines as something more special than most films of the same ilk. The role reversal of the ‘haves’ & the ‘have-nots’ gives us a familiar world in which those with resources still fight amongst themselves about how best to keep their community safe.  Of course, this is Canada. And their refugee policy during a zombie outbreak is still more compassionate than anything we’ve seen in the U.S. under our current administration.

While this film does a good job at reflecting on this continent’s dark history of colonialism
and immigration, I think that it did an even better job encapsulating something far more pressing. I couldn’t help but be reminded of mankind’s tendency to look out for only ourselves in a time of crisis. To be fair, in our current state of affairs, this isn’t something that we need to be reminded of. I think of it every time I go out looking for toilet paper. Or when I see the lines of people wrapped around the ammunition store I drive by on my way home. Or when I see footage of the crowds breaking quarantine to gather in places like Lansing, Denver and Phoenix. A time of crisis is when a community is at its most vulnerable. It’s at times like this that small minorities of that community can inflict irreparable damage on us all. It’s in this way that I think Barnaby’s second feature, if even unwittingly, hits the chainsaw on the head.

By and large, the technical aspects here are mostly well done. The film was shot very well. It can be complicated shooting a lot of zombie siege fight sequences in a way that the audience can actually comprehend what’s going on. This film looked far better than anything in the final season of “Game of Thrones”. The acting was a bit of a mixed bag but I would give additional kudos to Stonehorse Lone Goeman. He doesn’t have much experience as an actor but is rather well known as a trainer MMA world. Here he plays sort of a First Nations Samurai Grandpa character that’s a delight whenever he’s on screen. I would also highlight the ultra-hip animated sequences that pop up throughout the film. I don’t really know anything about animation but it looked really cool.

I think the story falters a bit in its pacing and tonal shifts. At times it seems like it’s trying to have a little too much fun with the “zed” murdering badassery to be taken seriously as a social commentary. Most of this is easily forgivable but from time to time, it’s unclear where the film’s heart it.

My biggest, and only true gripe was with the underdevelopment of its characters and relationships. Sometimes it’s the tendency of a storyteller aiming at a universal truth to give less time for the details that flesh out the finer points. It’s hard to understand that specificity allows greater empathy and identification but I’ve found this to always be the case. Our main characters give lip service to their back stories but a few flashback scenes would have gone a long way for the audience. This was a bit extra disappointing considering the fact that Barnaby’s first feature, RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS didn’t suffer from this issue at all.

This is Barnaby’s second feature. The aforementioned RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS is a better film that I’ve grown to love a little bit more with every additional viewing. It takes place in the same area about a decade earlier than BLOOD QUANTUM. And although it’s an imperfect film, it succeeded in many ways. And I’m very excited to see what he comes up with next.

Emery’s Rating
3.5 out of 5 Stars
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