by Hope Madden
It’s 1981 on the Red Crow Indian reservation and white people have lost their damn minds.
Since it is 1981, no way they know it’s zombies. Sure, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead came out in ’69, but the genre doesn’t really take off until later in the Eighties. No, they have to figure this out for themselves – no meta commentary, no preconceived notions.
It wouldn’t help them anyway because Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum is a zombie movie with a twist, which he uses to his advantage to subvert your knowledge of the genre.
Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) is having a busy morning. He had to shoot his ex-wife’s dog, his sons have both been arrested, Sugar keeps calling the station because his woman’s sick, and Traylor’s dad needs him to come see something down at the store.
It’s always nutty like that right before the zombie apocalypse, though. Although, to be honest, Blood Quantum often works a little more like 30 Days of Night and Stakeland – both vampire films that riff on zombie tropes—but the filmmaker utilizes Romero when it makes sense.
Barnaby takes common horror themes and bends them to serve the film’s purpose as an apt allegorical nightmare. It’s the combination of social commentary and intimate family drama that makes the film memorable.
Blood Quantum would have been interesting solely on the basis of “plagued up Opies” invading indigenous space—sometimes wrapped in infected blankets, even. But the film derives its real strength from a more intimate struggle. Yes, a diseased white population threatens to overwhelm and destroy the folks of the Mi’gMaq reserve, but Barnaby’s focus is internal.
Whites are a mainly nameless burden, a privileged but parasitic condition of life. Traynor and his boys need to take care of their own shit if they want to survive this.
Greyeyes offers a level performance to build around. Kiowa Gordon brings sinister charm to the bad boy Lysol role, balanced nicely as favorite son Joseph by The Revenant’s Forrest Goodluck, (“He killed my boy!”)
Better still are longtime character actor Gary Farmer (love him!) and relative newcomer Stonehorse Lone Goeman as a couple of guys who’ve lived through a lot and bring rich if not always valuable perspective.
Performances are not always exceptional, and you would not call this a feminist effort, but the underlying wry, weary wit separates the film from anything else like it.
There’s also an excellent use of resources – minimal sets maximized results: claustrophobia, tension, horror. Barnaby’s spare but effective use of animation is another reason Blood Quantum delivers a vital new perspective for the genre.