Sneaky film drops are always fun. They become especially so when they're about zombie movies! The highly anticipated Blood Quantum dropped as a final streaming surprise in Shudder's Halfway to Halloween month. The Indigenous zombie thriller couldn't release at a more timely moment, as it offers themes that rival our global contagion concerns in a way that director Jeff Barnaby never could have known when creating the film.
It's a snappy, 90-minute watch that offers plenty of looks in the mirror for those who may or may not have a certain proclivity for walls. When the outbreak first hits the isolated Red Crow reserve things are business as usual. But, as it the case for any zombie outbreak, things quickly devolve into chaos as the sickness spreads and more and more residents fall victim.
As mentioned, there's a little more than meets the eye with this one. If you know what the phrase "blood quantum" means, you may have gone into the film with an assumption of how things were going to play out. For those who are unfamiliar, the short version is that it's a blood law that the United States and some native tribes use to qualify whether a person is eligible to be a member of a native nation. As you can imagine, Blood Quantum laws have been the source of a large amount of controversy for some years.
The film elects to use the complicated history of Blood Quantum laws to its favor. After the first infections occur, we eventually realize that those with enough Mi'kMac blood are immune. What unfolds from that point are timely conversations about who is to be allowed on the reservation, who can be saved, and where empathy stops and pragmatic protection of your people begins.
Immunity brings about the timely questions, but it's also the plot point that adds a fresh spin to a genre that I have found to be stagnant the majority of my life. There are plenty of good zombie films, but it's difficult to bring anything new to the table. The blood immunity of the Mi'kMacs brings just that. Though they're safe from the outbreak, they find themselves forced to watch as the world crumbles around them.
Make no mistake, crumble around them it does! Sociopolitical commentary plays a big role in the film, but don't think it sacrifices a second of gore for conversation. There are plenty of gnarly moments in Blood Quantum, and not all of them result in death. The immunity to the disease doesn't translate to immunity from getting messed up by a zombie, and some folks find themselves missing appendages that they've held very dear throughout their lives.
With the expected gore comes a lot of fun action. Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) delivers plenty of fun scenes by way of katana, bringing a fun new life to the seasoned grandfather archetype. The brother vs brother face-offs between Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) and Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) bring in an added layer of interesting complexity as well. There also may or may not be some corpses hanging by their insides a time or two. It's gnarly, it's layered, and it knows that at the end of the day it's still a zombie film!
Blood Quantum does nearly everything right, with both of its exceptions being relatively minor. I may not ever be on board with animal deaths in movies, but I can allow them if they serve a narrative purpose. Unfortunately, that's not the case in the film. We won't dive too deep as to avoid spoilers, but the outbreak is established early by way of the fish. Additional animal casualties were unnecessary to the overall story.
The only other issue I took with the movie really just boils down to personal taste. While the animated features sprinkled throughout do matter to the plot, they just didn't really work for me. The art was pretty enough and they give details that wouldn't have otherwise fit in the dialogue, I just found them to be more distracting than useful. My personal issues aside, they do still manage to add an added uniqueness to a film that already breaks the genre mold.
At the end of the day, Blood Quantum is exactly what I want from the zombie genre. While the beats play out exactly as we've come to expect them to in a zombie flick, there's still enough new going on to keep things interesting. The film knows what it is and what it wants to be, and it accomplishes both of those things with very little issues.
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