Tons of credit goes to any filmmaker who can take a genre and build off of it to create something like director Jeff Barnaby’s new horror thriller, Blood Quantum.
The storytelling process usually teeters on the more formulaic end of these types of films, and that goes to the director’s ability to tell a story; the sweeping epic saga in all the shows and spin-offs that culminate AMC’s The Walking Dead universe, and even films like I Am Legend, World War Z or Train To Busan all have their frills and plusses on certain ends. Blood Quantum certainly has its message all the same, and with an enriching subject matter that coalesces multiple aspects of the ensuing drama within Barnaby’s distinctive and often thrilling and fun horror millieu.
An ancient proverb precedes the opening credits with an eerie glimpse into the year 1981 at the Red Crow reservation. It doesn’t take long for strange things to begin occuring as the reanimated dead begin to consume the town and surrounding areas. Early on, Blood Quantum introduces Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), a Mi’gmaq tribal sheriff who finds himself mitigating crises on several ends, including that of his recently incarcerated sons, Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), and Joseph (Forest Goodluck), the latter who is also a father-to-be with pregnant caucasian girlfriend, Charlie (Olivia Scriven).
The film gradually illustrates the decline of the reserve as more mysterious and grim cases pop up on Traylor’s radar. A climactic moment toward the first half-hour mark is the segway for a six-month jump forward where Traylor, his sons and Joseph’s mother, Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) have walled off a small village on the Mi’gmaq reserve for themselves, along with more than a hundred survivors, including Traylor’s lone fisherman father, swordsman and formerly retired deputy, Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goemon), and fellow indigeonous inhabitants Shooker (William Beleau) and the chainsaw-wiedling Bumper (Brandon Oakes).
As Traylor and his cohorts work to preserve their resources and protect the surviving inhabitants, they begin to feel the pressure of drawing too much attention from wanderers and stragglers looking for shelter; It turns out the indigeonous are also immune to the bites that result in awakening the dead, a fact which unfortunately stokes false rumors that they can cure people who get bitten. This factor is one of several threatening components the camp quietly faces as the catalyst surrounding the self-effacing family drama between Joseph and Lysol takes effect in an explosive and brutal way, endangering the camp with Joss and Charlie still inside.
Host to stunt sequences by Jean Frenette, Blood Quantum has all the ingredients of a fairly entertaining zombie thriller from start to finish, including a few characters that add a little fun to the zombie death scenes, and of course there are moments in the film where the zombies win that will leave you about as gutted as one key character near the third act. Rest assured though, the film hardly rests on its laurels as a genre movie crowdpleaser, adding the complexities of broken family melodrama amid disparate rural life on the reservation, and the allegorical fallout of a small, indigenous population gripped by fear, as well as a small stitch of xenophobia.
There are also several animated changeovers between acts, as well as an immersive, fine-tuned score by Barnaby who also served as composer on most of his own projects to date. In the end, however, it all boils down to the proverb at the top of Blood Quantum, which serves as something of a Coda to think back on as the story moves on.
Featuring an impressive and largely indigenous talent roster led with strong performances by Greyeyes, Tailfeather, Goodluck, Scriven, Gordon,and Goemon, Blood Quantum is absolute piece of essential cinema to add to your movie experience. Notwithstanding the spectacular thrills of watching mankind battle the undead here, it’s really the messaging that counts at times, with an underlying, elegiac mix of tenor that is both chilling and teachable, particularly for a film just making its platform debut during one of the most politically and racially tumultuous periods in world history.
BLOOD QUANTUM is now available on Shudder in the United States, the U.K., and in Europe.