Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum is an unconventional yet accessible strain of zombie cinema. Instead of keying into 28 Days Later ferocity as patient zero outbreaks spread, Barnaby favors an exploration into one community’s slice-of-life future well after Earth turns apocalyptic. More akin to World War Z or The Walking Dead in terms of accentuating humanity’s ugliest responses to dystopian pandemonium, but not without righteous walker brutality. Characters notch a few “Zombie Kill Of The Week” entries that’d gain votes on over-the-topness alone, not to distract from the indigenous storytelling that makes historical use of Native American perspectives. A fresh take on a festering horror subgenre, albeit an overall formula that’s still familiar on fundamental zomboid terms.
It’s six months after zombies start appearing outside the isolated Mi’gMaq reserve of Red Crow. Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) continues his local law enforcement duties by protecting the living inside from the dead banging on their door. It’s a dangerous task, but there’s something special about the legacy inhabitants of Red Crow – they’re all immune to zombification. Some survivors like Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) spend their time rescuing outsiders, while others like brother Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) see the infectable as time bombs. In order to live, ex-lovers and estranged family members must band together or be overrun. If, that is, they don’t tear each other apart from the inside first.
The inexplicable details of Blood Quantum can be ambiguous, but uniqueness and intrigue trump frustration. What starts with zombie salmon and zombie canines within Red Crow boundaries eventually leads to reanimated corpses, but not of tribal heritage. Barnaby’s screenplay suggests mythical horrors at play, whether there’s karmic justice at work via Mother Nature or forgotten peoples continued to be overlooked by universal standards (search “Blood Quantum” for further explanations). “Whys” and “Hows” surrounding immunity aren’t necessary, given how Barnaby fast-forwards past the initial opening infestation to an already-established Red Crow stronghold. Audiences should expect more a character exploration than Zed shooting gallery, which may frustrate purists who demand answers.
Behind barricades and makeshift barracks, problems of the reservation sill exist. Alcoholism and drug usage stoke confrontation as Lysol seethes his hatred for non-Mi’gMaq settlers who populate their junkyard fortress. Traylor attempts to keep his sons Joseph and Lysol behaving, with the help of the settlement’s nurse and previous lover Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers). This is where I make The Walking Dead connections because arguments and betrayal are more prevalent than undead aggression. Some developments reveal the nastiness of segregation or eradication to saves oneself, while other notes test familial bloodlines as Lysol continues to be a self-proclaimed asshole with no regret. Pregnancies during end-times, psychopaths in power, killing as a way of life – all the corrosive psychological signifiers are noted. Man will forever bring upon his downfall, which Barnaby exploits for the film’s most shocking pivots.
Gore plays a considerable role in Blood Quantum, never holding back. When violence strives to hammer home a visual message, clawing zombie hands rip fleshy materials to shreds. When Traylor’s hunting squad squares off against their braindead attackers, carnage ranges from katana decapitations to revved-up chainsaws that carve into monster skulls. Stonehorse Lone Goeman plays a standout warrior MVP in Grandfather Gisigu while Brandon Oakes’s burly Bumper wins our hearts by providing muscle-hardened support. Copious squirts of blood gush from torso stumps where heads once rested, or entrails suspend halved zombie pursuers like dreamcatchers dangling from a window. What’s an impactful horror flick without some righteous death sequences and gruesome dispatching of evils? Bodies hit the floor, pile high, and maintain special effects as a memorable premium.
Conversely noted, performances sometimes struggle with the material at hand. While Traylor shines in countless moments where his deadbeat father figure grows out of his neglectful shell, some line readings are flat upon delivery. The same goes for other actors and actresses who represent a demographic of the culture Barnaby showers in reddish juices, where performers are better murderers than monologue punchers. It certainly helps when battle axes swing down on chomping heads with brute force, but it’s not a blanket cover-all. Distractions have a shelf-life.
In any case, I didn’t expect the gorehound inside to be pleased by Blood Quantum on such an intestinally-tangled, deeply unsettling, squeal-with-glee level. Maternal worries and external “invaders” provide just two of many side plottings at play, with a few such scripted additives falling flatter than intended. These are the climactic elements you’ve seen played out before, but once again, Jeff Barnaby brings an essential and forefronted marginalized touch to this reshuffled deck of zombie genre conflicts and resolutions. I’ll be talking about some of the slayings in this film for years to come, and that’s enough, in my book, to earn a solid recommendation for your Friday night Shudder frights.
Blood Quantum mixes fresh subgenre ideas with dependable and messy zombie gore for a successful balance of guts and glory.