What do show dogs and Indigenous people have in common? People are obsessed with the ‘purity’ of our blood. This concept, known as ‘blood quantum’, is a byproduct of colonization that still exists and plays a major role in Jeff Barnaby’s newest zombie film of the same name.
Blood Quantum opens on the Red Crow Mi’kmaq reservation in 1981. Traylor, portrayed by Michael Greyeyes, is a local cop who is trying to balance the daily situations on the rez with his own personal drama. All of the daily issues immediately fall to the background as a new sickness, where the dead come back to life, starts to infect all the creatures around Traylor’s community, even the fish and dogs. What sets this film apart from other zombie tales is the twist: Indigenous people cannot be infected.
Barnaby’s knowledge of the horror genre is evident from the open credits, which features a bird’s eye view of Traylor’s cruiser on a winding road à la The Shining or Funny Games. Even the use of zombies for political and ethnic commentary is a sly wink at the monster’s historical and cinematic existence that has been erased from the genre in recent years. Despite some messiness in the story that feels a bit clunky at times, the reclaiming of the zombie to comment on the Indigenous experience in what is now known as Canada is an original take on a concept that I thought was worn out.
The story couldn’t be pulled off without an all-star cast. Forrest Goodluck, who plays Joseph, is an incredible talent that will be landing leading roles as soon as this current quarantine is lifted. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers further proves her ability as an actor with her role as Joseph’s mother and the nurse who holds everyone together post-outbreak. Of course, cameos from the iconic Gary Farmer and the powerful Devery Jacobs adds texture to Barnaby’s sophomore feature just be their mere appearance on screen.
Technically, Blood Quantum is top-notch. The special effects and production design coupled with Michel St-Martin’s cinematography, the same talent that shot Barnaby’s first feature Rhymes for Young Ghouls, regulates the cynical atmosphere. The constant use of warm hues and yellow lights is an interesting choice that is also noticeable in Rhymes and is a part of Barnaby’s movie language. Plus, what’s a zombie movie without some gore? This is where the film gets really graphic, with tons of blood and body horror that will satisfy even the biggest fans of the genre.
Barnaby is ushering in a new era of Indigenous filmmaking. While still addressing some of the post-colonial pain that exists within communities today, Blood Quantum is a refreshing break from the same sad drama that is usually regurgitated when filmmakers, even those from an Indigenous or Native background, attempt to talk about the Indian experience. As the original people, we deserve to have our stories in every genre that the entertainment industry has to offer and Blood Quantum is just the beginning of what is to come.