Blood Quantum review: Indigenous zombie thriller brings guts and politics

Jeff Barnaby’s first-of-its-kind Indigenous zombie thriller crams in broken families, gore and constitutional statements.

Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, Blood Quantum reveals two days in the lives of the Indigenous people in the isolated Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow who are dealing with the small matter of the dead coming back to life – one day during the initial outbreak, and the other six months later.

Centring on the Chief of Police of the reserve Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) and his two sons the kind-hearted Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and rebel Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), as well as his father (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) and Joseph’s mother Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), the film handles the horrors of a broken family as well as that of the undead. Apart from Traylor struggling to connect with his two sons, Joseph has just found out his young girlfriend is pregnant, while Lysol has practically become a resident at the police station after a series of alcohol- and drug-fuelled offences. This fracture in the family becomes especially apparent in the second half when Joseph takes a more kind-hearted approach to the apocalypse, picking up stranded strangers to take them to the safety of the reserve. Lysol, meanwhile, has become a kind of dystopian power-obsessed war lord who believes the people in the reserve should stick to themselves.

Blood Quantum is the first of its kind and its political statement is clear. Firstly, the movie is set in Canada in 1981 – the year the Canadian government eliminated aboriginal rights in the proposed constitution of the time, causing groups of First Nation people to march on Parliament Hill in protest. Indeed a famous image of an Indigenous man coming face-to-face with a Canadian army soldier during a tense standoff at the Kahnesatake reserve in Oka in 1990 is hauntingly mirrored as a zombie soldier is strung up on the barricade to the reserve and mocked by Lysol just as he refuses entry to some stranded outsiders. It has themes of racism, isolation and cross-cultural resentment, which are all clearly ramped up when we’re dealing with the end of the world as we know it. With an Indigenous cast and an Indigenous filmmaker, the significance of the film is clear. But is it a good horror movie?

It is certainly gory. The first half of the movie is an all-out gross-fest as Traylor witnesses first-hand what the zombie germ does (one scene involving a druggie couple and their new-born baby will certainly stay with you). It’s also a decent action film, with some cool zombie fight scenes, especially with the sword-swinging Stonehorse Lone Goeman (we would have liked to have seen more from him). Inevitably, you can’t have too much of a good thing, and the varying themes feel a little too stuffed into the film to make it an exceptional horror. However, with a unique and clever plot twist on the zombie trope, an important place in film history and some badass swordplay, Blood Quantum is one to watch out for.

Blood Quantum will roll-out on all Shudder platforms on 28 April.