Blood Quantum is an indigenous zombie movie set on the Mi’kmaq Red Crow Reservation in Canada. It follows rez Police Chief, Traylor, (looking like the quintessential NDN warrior, all broad shoulders and braids) and his family, Joss (Traylor’s nurse ex-wife), Joseph (Good Son and father-to-be), and Lysol (the Bad Son), as they deal with a zombie apocalypse. Turns out, only Indigenous folx are immune.
I’ll start with what I loved about this movie: Director Jeff Barnaby is great with tone. The calm opening shot of a person we find out later is Gisigu, Traylor’s grisled father, engaging in a little predawn fishing. It allows you a second to really settle in and get comfy before the next scene of Gisigu gutting his morning haul of salmon. The salmon just won’t stay dead. Cue opening credits which are set in front of wide, sweeping shots of the reserve and surrounding forests, but the angles are odd and unsettling, and the music is ominous and creeping. Very North American Rural Gothic. We’re entering a world of the undead.
Blood Quantum is a textbook Romero-style zombie flick. It tells you as much about the characters as you need to know and gives you enough hints at backstory to let your imagination do the rest. There are really great kills with guns and chainsaws and Gisigu getting in on the action with a samurai sword. There are clashes in ideology within the survivors camp.
Also, it just looks good. For a movie with extremely B movie-level acting and dialogue, the cinematography really stands out. I’ve actually put this movie on mute and kept it on in the background just for that. The colors are rich, and the shots do all the work of keeping the tone of the movie even and perfect. Almost.
Barnaby really drops the ball when a scene gets too hectic. Anytime there’s more than a couple actors on screen with zombies, it’s just really easy to lose track of what the hell’s going on. It’s easy to miss who gets bitten when and where. The style goes from well composed with an even flow to almost a COPS-style chaos. This happens a couple more times in the movie.
I’m not even going to go into the acting because it is a B-movie, and that feels a little unfair to attack. There are some notable performances. Gary Farmer is an immediately recognizable face in NDN country. He was in Smoke Signals and Dead Man and for the Indigenous Deep Cut, Powwow Highway. He’s one of those actors who’s consistent and reliable and it’s a comfort when he’s there even if he’s playing a real asshole. William Belleau is great as the cocaine- addled zombie killer, Shooker. I also look forward to seeing more from Kiowa Gordon, the only lead who really delivers at. He has a manic, believable gravitas as bad son, Lysol.. It wells in his eyes and in the jagged edge creaking in his voice.
I should say that I am also Indigenous. I am Chahta (Choctaw) from the Pearl River Reservation. I am also a transwoman. I’m always looking for positive representations and media to champion. Blood Quantum falls sadly short of being more than just a great zombie flick. This movie had a chance to say something about Native women’s strength. It does not. The two lead women are a nurse who’s barely there and a pregnant white damsel. It had a chance to say something about queer culture in the indigenous community. The visibly queer, androgynous character gets slut-shamed and then worse. There was a chance to address colorism in the Indigenous community, and, again, silence. I didn’t expect Blood Quantum to be a movie about these things. It’s barely about colonialism–which it really wants to be–but it goes out of its way to set up these issues and just takes it all back. At the end of the day (night?), it’s just about a bunch of NDNs killing the shit out of a bunch of undead white folx in a lot of gruesome ways.
I encourage every fan of the genre to watch this movie, but don’t expect any real message or deep meaning. Just a bunch of Indigenous folx chopping down Zeds (their nickname for zombies) and looking real fine doing it. I mean, damn, we are a really good looking people. So watch it, and watch it again. The more people watch movies with Indigenous faces in front of and behind the camera, the more movies you get from us, and the better the chance that the next NDN horror movie you get to watch is strong in tone and allegory.
Lola is from the Pearl River Choctaw Reservation and currently lives in Bulbancha where she hides out making art while also being a nuisance to her cat. Buy her music at https://greatbiglilloladarling.bandcamp.com/releases