[Review] Shudder’s Indigenous Zombie Film ‘Blood Quantum’ is Entertaining AND Important

In the pre-selection process for the world premiere of Quantum of Blood writer/director Jeff Barnaby, the producers of the film determined that it would take 12 years to raise money for the film. It is hard to believe that it would take so long for financiers to realize the appeal – and the importance – of a film about the zombies of indigenous peoples. The film is literally the first of its kind, so it should be emphasized that the very existence of the film is a milestone of its own.

There are two ways to discuss the blood quantum. One sees the status of the film as an essential part of historical and socio-political art, the other as a more traditional view of whether it is an entertaining horror film. Although there are, of course, horror fans who prefer to focus exclusively on the second type of criticism, the reality is that films are not made and consumed in a vacuum. Every film, no matter how stupid or sublime, has political, social and cultural themes that are conveyed both by the director and the audience. A quantum of blood is just a text that addresses this reality in a much clearer way.

The film takes place on the territory of the Krasnaya River Reserve in 1981. It is divided into two halves, each of which chronologically record one day: the first is the day of the epidemic, when the inhabitants of the reserve discover that the dead have risen, and the second is six months later, with the status of the survivors being recorded chronologically as they live in the fortified area. The blood quantum mainly concerns a large family consisting of Trailor’s father (Michael Greyes), Joss’s mother (El-Mayah’s Tailors), her son Joseph (Forrest Good Luck), his grandfather (Stonehorse Lonely Geman) and the black sheep of the Lysol family (Cova Gordon), who is Trailor’s son from a previous relationship and Joseph’s half-brother.

A broken family unit is a central element of the film, especially in the second half of the film, when tensions in a closed society reach their boiling point. Lysol disagrees with Charlie (Olivia Skriven), Joseph’s pregnant white girl, and his willingness to search for and accept survivors because of the risk of an unexplained infection. Since this is a zombie film, something inevitably happens that endangers the community, resulting in a long struggle and a flight for survival.

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At first glance, everything works pretty well with the family. They are the most developed characters, and it is as an audience that we invest the most in their stories and their survival. Joseph’s complicated relationship with Liesel, with whom he desperately tries to make contact despite his self-proclaimed love for shit, is the most terrible narrative conflict. Lysol is both fascinating and disappointing: He is a traumatized, damaged boy with legitimate educational problems, but at the same time he is a nihilistic gunman who is content to burn down the whole institution when people act against his will. Gordon is very irresistible in this role, so much so that he transcends other actors, especially Goodluck, who plays a more conventional and less demonstrative benefactor role.

The rest of the family is solid, the lonely Goman can best be treated like a solid grandfather who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Non-family members are more finely drawn; they seem to have a defining characteristic, but that does not always mean that they are not close.

While the reasons for the chaos that is destroying the new society are somewhat indirect and do not work for everyone, Barnaby has an unmistakable understanding of how to manage the mountain. Blood Quantum likes filthy violence, which often coincides with a comic sting to make heads and intestines explode more easily. The editorial part is a bit bumpy (Barnaby is also responsible for these tasks), because some cuts and transitions cause a strange temporal separation or geographical confusion, especially when the zombies are in crawl mode.

So at first glance it looks like a zombie movie.

However, with the introduction of the second type of vision the blood quantity reaches a whole new level. However, a slight SPOILER warning is necessary before you can continue (it’s not a climax or anything, but if you want to go out in the cold, you can skip the rest of the exam).

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Characteristic of the film is the fact that the inhabitants are immune to the zombie virus. This means that all the zombies in the film are white and that the real threat to the indigenous community is not that of becoming zombies, but that of their captivity/destruction.

Like narrative vanity, it is a sense of freshness and uniqueness. Barnaby’s scenario wraps her skirts around details and sometimes even seems reluctant to explore her forehead, but the story and the political implications are immediately clear. It is a horror film in which the external threat to the indigenous community is literally the white settlers. As I said in my column about the maple syrup massacre on Ginger Snapsack, Canada’s problematic relationship with indigenous peoples is one of oppression, forced migration and cultural genocide. For an Aboriginal filmmaker, it is incredibly powerful not only to position Aborigines as heroes of their own history, but also to position white people directly as murderous thieves who are only interested in consuming and destroying the community. The fact that non-indigenous survivors and zombies are constantly trying to enter the shelter is not exactly a hidden clue to the invasion of native territory by settlers.

In addition, the film was shot in a very specific historical period: 1981. This year, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the government amended the Canadian Constitution, provisionally omitting Article 34, which recognises Aboriginal rights to land contracts. The problem was finally solved when the federal and provincial governments of all countries (except Quebec) voted for the recognition of indigenous land claims. For Barnaby, the creation of the Blood Quantum, a story that positions the Aborigines not only as heroes but also as saviors of the human race, is a direct response to this true recognition of life.

In this respect, Quantum of Blood is both a fairly fascinating zombie film and, more importantly, an essential socio-political critique of actual historical events in Canada.

Editor’s note : This revision of TIFF was initially approved on 7 December 2007. September 2019 published.

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