BLOOD QUANTUM Movie Review
Written and Directed by Jeff Barnaby
Starring: Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Maija-Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Devery Jacobs, Olivia Scriven, Brandon Oakes, Stonehorse Lone Goaman and Gary Farmer
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There is an elegant moment in Blood Quantum when an Indigenous elder man with a samurai sword faces a horde of zombies while a traditional Native American song plays as the musical score. As he hacks and slices at the oncoming undead, who are made up entirely of reanimated white people, there is a lot more happening than just gory B-film horror violence. The scene sums up the First Nations Peoples experience and their struggle to survive in a colonized world. Be it their language, culture, land or in this case, Indigenous Cinema, the scene represents how Native Americans are constantly fighting for their existence. What better way than to use the horror genre to draw parallels to the effects of colonialism on the First Nations and their continuous combative efforts to be recognized.
Blood Quantum is the 2nd feature from Native filmmaker Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes For Young Ghouls) who also wrote, edited and scored the film. Michael Greyeyes leads an ensemble cast of Indigenous actors including, Elle-Maija-Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Devery Jacobs, Brandon Oakes Stonehorse Lone Goaman and Gary Farmer. The film is a bloody gory horror tale with a Native American twist and layered with dark humor and social commentary.
As a zombie outbreak strikes a Mi’gMaq reservation, the Natives discover that they are immune to the virus that only seems to infect white people. This forces the First Nation community to close the borders to the rez and defend their land from the oncoming flesh eaters. Power is then shifted to the Natives as they are plunged into this second invasion of the white man. Borrowing strong political undertones from George Romero’s classic zombie films, Blood Quantum is a fun slice of gory exploitation horror that also has a lot to say about current social issues that plague Indigenous people today.
The First Nations cast do a great job offering a glimpse into contemporary reservation life. The characters also shatter Native stereotypes as there are no feathers or buckskin in this movie. It is so refreshing to see a film not only with Native inclusion, but also where they are portrayed with humanity and not sidekicks in the background. Even the cinematography is great as it presents the reservation with a certain damaged beauty.
There is also plenty of gore in this film as zombies are dispatched in creatively horrific ways. Shotguns, chainsaws and swords are choice weapons against the undead. The special effects are top notch and the blood flows like geysers. The practical effects give the movie a raw tone that emphasizes the bleak subject matter of cultural genocide.
Blood Quantum does have its flaws as it suffers from a low budget. It may not have enough action for hardcore horror fans who are used to expensive blockbusters like Walking Dead or World War Z. At times, the film also falls into familiar zombie movie tropes. Yet for every cliché, the film offers a new point of view. It is the Indigenous perspective that is the main focus of Blood Quantum and that alone presents a fresh take on the horror genre.
Like every great zombie movie, Blood Quantum is layered with deep social commentary. The title refers to blood quantum laws in which the Indigenous population can only be federally recognized by the amount of their native blood. They are the only race on the planet that must prove their racial identity. Just one of the many effects of colonialism as those with more native blood tend to look down on half breeds and those with less. This has led to strife and in-fighting among First Nation communities as it is another example of how Natives must fight to be recognized.
This idea of racial oppression is strongly reflected in the film. Some natives view the infected white people as a danger and want nothing else but segregation and even have them slaughtered. Some of these Natives wield their power in this zombie apocalypse not unlike the tyrannical colonizers who conquered them. This is just an extension of the anger of the Indigenous community as they have had to cope with centuries of oppression. Sort of like Killmonger in Black Panther, this native anger and frustration are the results of colonization which leads them to desperate horrible measures.
The symbolism of Blood Quantum goes even deeper. It tackles other topics such as the border issue, as the reservation has closed its territory to outsiders. The fact that Natives are immune to a virus that only infects white people, just further reinforces the idea of colonization is a destructive plague. The film even opens with a Bible verse about how the conquering of another territory is justified as long as it is God’s Will. The movie then refers to the Bible Verse as an “Ancient Settler Proverb”, totally dismissing the significance of the Judeo -Christian viewpoint and instead forcing the audience to look at it through Native eyes. This just emphasizes how religion was used as a justification for Native Genocide.
Blood Quantum also makes a strong statement on Native survival. The Natives in this movie being immune to the virus is just a bold observation of the resilience of Indigenous People and their will to survive. First Nations have endured tragedy and loss for over 500 years. With the conquering of their land and their culture nearly wiped out, it is only natural that they would have immunity to this new plague. They have already dealt with far worse. The idea that Native Americans would be totally fine in a zombie apocalypse is actually quite amusing.
As the movie reaches its bloody climax, the audience is left with a sense of uncertainty. The Natives who want to cure the world of the white zombie plague clash with the Natives who want a more peaceful and inclusive solution. A white girl getting pregnant by an Indigenous boy just leads to further complications. Blood Quantum offers bits of an Indian Revenge Fantasy while asking deeper meaningful questions about reconciliation and forgiveness. The closing shots of a boat on the river represents a glimmer of hope of a new future.
Blood Quantum is an Indigenous history lesson disguised as a zombie movie. Equal parts Walking Dead as well as a tragic reservation drama, it is a Native Horror film made by Natives for a Native audience. With a strong indigenous cast, great cinematography and choice practical special effects, it is a fresh take on the zombie film. It offers a new perspective to the horror genre by highlighting the First Nations point of view. Natives are constantly fighting for their voices to be heard, even Native films are barely recognized by the movie industry. It might not be a perfect horror flick and may fall into familiar tropes, but as an Indigenous Film, there is nothing else like it. Blood Quantum is the first of its kind and signifies the dawn of a new era for Native Americans in Cinema.
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Blood Quantum is an Indigenous history lesson disguised as a zombie movie.