As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.
Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.
The setup is the most interesting part of the movie: The perfunctory zombie outbreak takes place, but only whites can turn. The Red Crow reservation survives relatively unscathed, relatively because while immune to the virus, they’re still edible.
Because of the dynamic of the virus, the reservation becomes a haven in the midst of widespread chaos. It also gives the locals a level of power not seen since the colonizers landed.
The film zeroes on two half-brothers, Joseph (Forrest Goodluck, The Revenant) and Lysol (Kiowa Gordon). The former, the favorite son of the sheriff of the reservation. The latter, a screwup and all-around bad influence. Joseph has a pregnant white girlfriend, which makes him more sympathetic to their plight. Lysol would rather see them eradicated and resents the fact his father sides with Joseph. His recklessness and simmering anger soon endangers the entire reserve.
Even though Blood Quantum has a solid supporting cast with meaty roles (Michael Greyeyes as the sheriff, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Gary Farmer, Stonehorse Lone Goeman as the kickass grandpa), the two characters at the centre are one-dimensional and not all that compelling. Joseph in particular is passive to the point of inert. Why would the audience be invested on his fate?
The city-wide reversal of fortune is a constant, but feels curiously underdeveloped for such a good idea. Instead, Barnaby rather let his genre inclinations loose: The gore is plentiful and disturbing (chainsaw, meet face), enough to break through the numbness of the one-too-many zombie killings on TV.
For all the character issues and less-than-stellar dialogue (“people look at me like my vagina is Pandora’s box”), the ending pulls all the stops. No one is safe, humans behave worse than the undead and karma has nothing on a sword-wielding elder. It’s a bit of a shame most people won’t be able to see Blood Quantum on the big screen due to the current circumstances. Still, turn off the lights, find a big TV and enjoy the mayhem. Three undead prairie dogs (out of five).
Blood Quantum is now available on demand.