(L-R) Forrest Goodluck, Michael Greyeyes, Kiowa Gordon in “Blood Quantum.” Photo credit: Steve Neuberger (AMC SVOD)
Directed by: Jeff Barnaby
Written by: Jeff Barnaby
Starring: Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Devery Jacobs, Gary Farmer, Felicia Schulman
Synopsis (via Shudder): The dead are coming back to life outside the isolated Mi’gmaq reserve of Red Crow, except for its Indigenous inhabitants who are immune to the zombie plague. Traylor (Greyeyes), the tribal sheriff, must protect his son’s pregnant girlfriend, apocalyptic refugees, and reserve riffraff from the hordes of walking white corpses.
Jeff Barnaby is a First Nations filmmaker born on the Mi’gmaq reserve, where both BLOOD QUANTUM and his debut feature, the cult-hit RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS, take place. He is the writer, director, editor and composer of BLOOD QUANTUM, which opened TIFF’s Midnight Madness program in 2019 to both audience and critical acclaim. His films frequently cast from within the Indigenous community and paint a stark and scathing portrait of post-colonial Indigenous life and culture – in this case, painting it in blood.
Blood Quantum is a film I’ve been hoping to see for a long time. It’s a film that does more than just “represent” in a surface level. It is a film that pushes audiences to think beyond themselves in a way they might not be used to. I knew I had to watch Blood Quantum, since it’s one of the rare North American films that feature a predominately Indigenous cast. But beyond that, I’m glad I saw this film for its focus on what life beyond the confines of Western life can be, even in the midst of an apocalypse.
The film follows Traylor (Greyeyes) as he and his father Gisigu (Goeman) discover a mysterious virus that has infected the fish, Traylor’s dead dog, and the white people of the small town near the Mi’gmaq reserve. The only people unaffected are the people of the reserve, the Red Crow. As the tribal sheriff, Traylor and his family—including Gisigu, his ex-wife Joss (Tailfeathers), son Joseph (Goodluck), and fellow Red Crow Bumper (Oakes) and Shooker (Belleau), must protect the reservation, help the wayward sick white people who come for help, and keep the family together, including Joseph’s pregnant girlfriend Charlie (Scriven). Meanwhile, Joseph and Joss’ other son Lysol (Gordon) and his around-the-way friends Moon (Farmer) and James (Jacobs), represent the other side of the reservation—the side that don’t want any white people, sick or otherwise, infiltrating their safe space.
What’s not apparent at first glance is that this film isn’t just a zombie film with Native actors. It’s a film that is an undercover meditation on the state of Native life and history. Think about it—for Native Americans and First Nations people, life has already been a post-apocalyptic world. It’s been post-apocalyptic for many non-white groups in America and Canada, to be honest, but for them, they were the first to reckon with the apocalypse of their world—their way of life—literally disintegrating in front of their eyes. The same happens in this film—a virus of unknown origin eats away at the remaining sense of culture and togetherness the Red Crow have left after the white man has taken over.
The virus, in turn, makes both the Red Crow grow closer together as well as further apart. Factions form within the reservation, factions fighting over who gets to be treated humanely in this new zombie-filled world. That division, which, to me, references how minorities of all stripes have had to battle each other and themselves over how to think of and handle white society, is what causes the ultimate downfall of the Red Crow stronghold against the zombies. In one way, regarding what happens in the film, it turns out Lysol was right about not letting white people into the reservation, especially if they’re going to lie about their zombie bites.
Lysol is, indeed, an interesting character. I think if someone compared him to Killmonger of Black Panther, they wouldn’t be far off. He, like Killmonger, wants the best for his people, but he goes about it in the most violent ways possible. And yet, his villainy has a strain of truth in it. He, like Killmonger, is warning his people about how their history of being mistreated by the dominant culture could repeat itself if they do not rise up against it. However, his method of “rising up” is different than that of our heroes Traylor, Joss and Joseph, who don’t want to retaliate with the same racism white people might have shown them in their lives. In fact, like Black Panther, which showcased Killmonger and T’Challa as two sides of the same coin, Lysol and Joseph are two halves of an identity—one side wants to treat others by the Golden Rule, the other by Hammurabi’s Code.
The film’s ending brings the meditation on Native life from the past and present and into the future. It posits a world in which the laws of the white man are forgone. In its place, a new world order, with Native life at the center, is established. It’s a world in which all Indigenous people can create and live according to the ways that reflect and honor them. In other words, the chaos of the time isn’t meant for those who are mistreated—it’s karma for those who have done the mistreatment. Even in death, the meek who gave their lives are honored, and the earth—which is spoken about in maternal terms in this film—does right by them by keeping them dead and allowing them to return back to her, unlike how she has cast out the zombies. And at the end of this film, out of the chaos, the meek ended up inheriting the earth.
Overall, I think this film pushes zombie horror genre forward, similar to how Jordan Peele is pushing horror narratives toward a more inclusive, politically-charged, insightful path. Blood Quantum has bold statements about race, culture and a post-Westernized future, statements that sneak up on you as your covering your eyes from the gore and guts. But they still make their point. It is asking its audience to think more about the state of North America’s Indigenous people and to learn about how you can keep the history of Indigenous mistreatment from repeating itself.