If horror fans are getting tired of zombie movies, Hollywood and indie filmmakers haven’t noticed. Even with The Walking Dead declining in the ratings, we’ve still seen a steady influx of undead horror. Overlord and Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die are the most recent zombie theatrical releases. Meanwhile Netflix has streamed several recent zombie movies including Cargo, The Cured, Ravenous, Day of the Dead: Bloodline, and The Girl With All The Gifts. Arguably, the ease at which zombies serve as a blank slate for social commentary may in part explain the monster’s popularity among filmmakers. Now the latest zombie offering, the Canadian-made Blood Quantum, puts an Indigenous spin on the narrative.
Six months following a zombie outbreak, residents of the Red Crow Mi’gMaq reserve have barricaded themselves from the infected. Though the zombie virus affects most humans and animals alike, Indigenous peoples are immune to its effects. However, this immunity poses problems as vulnerable survivors flock to the reserve in the hopes of finding shelter. Tensions quickly escalate as some reserve members oppose letting those who could potentially ‘turn’ into their safe community.
Blood Quantum a Biting Social Critique of Colonialism and Racism
Writer and director Jeff Barnaby takes a page from the master, George A Romero. That is, Barnaby uses the zombie movie as a biting social critique of colonialism and racism. Even the movie’s title – a reference to the practice of determining Native ancestry – takes a dig at settler colonialism. And Blood Quantum’s premise of a disease, imported by White people, threatening Indigenous people’s safety puts colonialism under a microscope. Whether it’s the toll the zombie outbreak takes on brothers and family or Barnaby’s final darkly sad image, Blood Quantum plugs into the same incendiary commentary on racism as Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the recent Black Christmas remake, Barnaby’s socially-charged story-telling also avoids felling heavy-handed. The commentary is present and very much clear. But Barnaby weaves it into the horror story in such a way that it feels perfectly in place.
Blood Quantum Doesn’t Forget to Bring The Zombie Gore
While Barnaby has a bigger story to tell, he doesn’t forget to bring the zombie gore. Blood Quantum wastes little time before unleashing some zombie carnage. Zombie fans and gorehounds alike need not fear. Barnaby knows his stuff. What he puts up on the screen should impress even the most diehard fans. Despite the number of zombie movies out there, Barnaby and his practical effects crew still find ways to shock. An early scene with gutted fish suddenly flopping to life feels refreshingly clever. Along the way, Blood Quantum delivers everything from samurai swords, chainsaws, and even a wood chipper. And Barnaby aptly interweaves all of this zombie horror with his well-paced, sharp story-telling.
…Barnaby achieves a somber mood that’s more fitting with his social commentary.
As compared to bigger budget zombie movies, like Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, Blood Quantum is quieter. It often feels a little less climactic. That is, in spite of its over-the-top gore, Barbaby’s movie is more understated. This has two specific effects. On one hand, some scenes may feel like they fall somewhat short of their emotional potential. Alternatively, Barnaby achieves a somber mood that’s more fitting with his social commentary. The movie’s score is also used sparingly and, unlike big theatrical movies, it’s less distracting and arguably more haunting. In addition, Blood Quantum intersperses interesting animated visuals as kind of chapter settings, which gives the movie a unique aesthetic. While some of the performances are weaker, it’s a minor quibble that’s aptly balanced out with fleshed out character dynamics.
Blood Quarantine a Future Classic of Canadian Horror
With his sophomore directorial effort, Jeff Barnaby has announced himself as a filmmaker to keep an eye on. Blood Quantum is a haunting, edgy zombie horror movie that balances style with powerful social critique. Horror fans looking for lean, brutal zombie action will be satisfied. But Barnaby has more on his mind, reminding us why diversity in story-telling is so necessary. It’s this diversity that makes Blood Quantum’s familiar narrative feel fresh and vital. Simply put, Blood Quantum should quickly find itself considered among the best of Canadian horror.