The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - BLOOD QUANTUM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - BLOOD QUANTUM

blood quantum review
When the zombie apocalypse hits, a Canadian Indian reservation proves the sole refuge.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jeff Barnaby

Starring: Michael Greyeyes, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Devery Jacobs, Gary Farmer

blood quantum poster

Few sub-genres have been so crudely exploited by filmmaking charlatans quite like the zombie movie. All you need is a bit of pasty face make-up and you're off and running (or shambling). At least that's what the hacks behind the hundreds of awful zombie movies that have proliferated virtual video shelves over the last couple of decades believe. The truth is, it's very difficult to make a worthwhile zombie movie, chiefly because George A. Romero covered so much ground with his influential 'Dead' trilogy. Regardless of whether they have anything to offer the genre, every cowboy with a camera has knocked out a zombie movie at this point. Now it's the turn of the Indians.

Writer/director Jeff Barnaby's Blood Quantum takes its title from the North American colonial practice of determining someone's position in society by the level of indigenous blood in their veins. The twist in his movie is that when the zombie apocalypse hits Canada, possessing native blood makes you immune to the plague.

blood quantum review

Set, as was his debut film Rhymes for Young Ghouls, on the fictional Red Crow Indian Reservation, Blood Quantum takes place in 1981 among the members of Quebec's Mi'gmaq tribe. The first such resident we encounter is elderly fisherman Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman), who is shocked to find his catch of the day flopping around, somehow brought back to life. Gisigu's son Traylor (a quietly charismatic Michael Greyeyes), the town Sheriff, has a similar encounter with the rejuvenated and vicious corpse of a dog he was earlier forced to put out of its pain. Later, while visiting his wayward sons Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) at the local jail where they've been locked up for the latest in a long line of troublemaking, Traylor is forced to grapple with the first appearance of an undead human. A local drunk who expired in his cell has returned from his dead slumber with an unhealthy appetite. It seems this quiet corner of Quebec has been hit by the zombie apocalypse.

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It's in these opening mood and location setting scenes that Blood Quantum is at its strongest and most distinctive, giving us a real sense of place. Barnaby efficiently fleshes out the wider community through introducing us to three generations of men in Traylor, his father and his sons. Setting the movie in 1981 isn't a cynical plea to nostalgia buffs but rather a way to erase the modern storytelling inconveniences of cellphones and the internet - we really do believe that this is one of the last places on Earth that might have learned of an impending apocalypse in this era. The early '80s setting also calls back to movies like John Carpenter's The Fog and Max Kalmanowicz's The Children, in which similarly isolated rural communities grapple with the sudden arrival of deadly and inexplicable phenomena.

blood quantum review

In Blood Quantum's second half, when the narrative skips forward six months, things take a disappointing turn towards the generic. The Mi'gmaq have discovered that they possess an inexplicable immunity to zombie bites, a point nicely illustrated by Traylor taking off his shirt and revealing a torso covered in bite marks, like the bullet scars on Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider protagonist. They've set up a fortress and are in the process of attempting to rebuild their community, but find themselves torn by the question of how to deal with the white people who keep arriving on their doorstep seeking refuge. Most are happy to provide help, but a growing faction led by Lysol wants to shut their doors to outsiders.

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After doing such a good job of establishing its unique setting, it's a shame that Blood Quantum then plays out what feels like the season finale of a zombie TV show. The faces may be a different shade than we're accustomed to seeing, but the tropes are all too familiar - the hiding of bites, the pregnant woman fearful of what she may be carrying in her womb, the community torn apart by one narcissist's actions. The climax is an extended action sequence, far less interesting and involving than the film's initially atmospheric setup. Barnaby fills the screen with bloody chaos, but there's a lack of invention in how our human heroes and villains and our undead antagonists are dispatched.

blood quantum review

Blood Quantum boasts a lot more polish than we've become accustomed to from this over-played sub-genre, and it benefits from both a refusal to wink at the audience and an ensemble cast all committed to their director's cause. If it were 1981 and you were living in an isolated community with little access to cinema, this would no doubt make you sit up and pay attention. But in 2020, with so many zombie movies available at the touch of a remote, Blood Quantum simply doesn't do enough to stand out in a genre that refuses to stay dead.

Blood Quantum is on Shudder UK now.

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