Written by: Matt Patti | May 11th, 2020
Blood Quantum (Jeff Barnaby, 2019) 2.5 out of 4 stars.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many political arguments have arisen over the topic of social distancing. Many believe that there should be harsher restrictions while others contemplate to what extent it should be followed. Essential workers put themselves at risk to help provide services for others. Topics for debate include: what should those less at risk do to help those most at risk; how do we help our community while keeping ourselves safe; and how do we interact with those we live with who might be in the most at-risk group? Blood Quantum interestingly explores many of these questions amid the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse.
Director Jeff Barnaby’s sophomore feature film, Blood Quantum, takes place at the Mi’gMaq reserve of Red Crow, a Native American reservation in Canada. The residents find that gutted fish are flopping around, a dead dog is growling, and sick people are walking around trying to eat others. It’s a zombie outbreak! However, the Native Americans soon discover that, even when bitten, they are immune to the zombie virus; and so the indigenous folk attempt to be good people and help those not immune – mainly Caucasians – stay safe from harm. Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), the tribal sheriff, leads the effort, setting up defense measures across the reserve and setting aside buildings in which refugees may stay. However, some natives on the reservation disagree with Traylor’s humanitarian approach, claiming that to harbor those at risk for infection puts the entire reservation in unnecessary danger. Can Traylor protect both his people and the outsiders from the zombie plague, or will his kindness come back to haunt him?
Barnaby does a great job of exploring the conflict within the reserve about helping non-natives. It’s a new, fresh idea in the longstanding zombie movie genre. What if one group of people were immune, based solely on their bloodline? No matter the group, there would be those who want to help others and those who want to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. Blood Quantum features interesting, distinct characters that fall on both sides of the spectrum. In addition to the intriguing drama over the situation, the film also features clever ways that this community keeps the zombies from invading their land, such as having a Haybine-style tractor vehicle cut up zombies attempting to come over a bridge. So, with these smart tactics being used, the only true threat to the community is the outsiders the natives let in, who might be infected, which raises the stakes of Traylor’s decision significantly.
The premise of the immune Native Americans and the tough decisions they must make is the film’s strong point and draws the viewer in. However, beyond that, the other aspects of the film play out like most other zombie films. There is much blood and gore, and many of the kills are graphic and the effects well-done. However, while there are a few intense scenes, most scenes are reminiscent of what we’ve all seen before in zombie films. It is the stakes and the characters that make the film interesting, not necessarily the horror or action aspects.
I must note that some of the performances in the film leave a bit to be desired. Michael Greyeyes as Traylor is fine, but oftentimes his line delivery is strange or over-dramatic. The supporting cast also suffers from poor line delivery at times and some unbelievable overacting. Another negative of the film is the fact that some decisions don’t quite make sense: the basis of the decisions and the thoughts that support such ideas are valid, but the specific decisions sometimes are not quite logical and there are often much easier/quicker ways to accomplish what they are trying to do.
Blood Quantum is an enjoyable, different, thought-provoking zombie thriller with interesting characters and quality effects work. The narrative is intriguing and gripping, leaving the viewer questioning their own thought process. Some of the performances aren’t as good as they could be and some character decisions are questionable, but the overarching theme of the film overshadows the weaknesses and allows the viewer to focus on the important questions the film raises. Overall, Blood Quantum is a fun, interesting, intense zombie film that is a welcome, unique addition to the genre, and a great film for anyone to watch, especially right now with its parallels to how people are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.