Blood Quantum review – First Nations zombie slasher does the job

Jeff Barnaby’s telling of a zombie apocalypse in Quebec is relevant and frequently fun, even if its emotional arcs seem shallow

A zombie apocalypse movie with the social conscience of a Jordan Peele joint, Blood Quantum is writer-director Jeff Barnaby’s attempt to grapple with the experience of Indigenous Canadians using all the trimmings of a schlocky slasher flick.

The story is simple: a fatal sickness spreads throughout the territory, killing all but Indigenous people. A ragtag band of survivors, led by local policeman Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) and his ex-wife, Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), barricade themselves in a makeshift fortification that is overrun almost as soon as they can re-establish some peace.

In this way, Blood Quantum alleges historical parallels with the Old World diseases brought by European colonisers to North America which subsequently tore through Indigenous populations who hadn’t built up immunity. Similarly, the title is a reference to restrictive “blood quantum” legislation which attempted to count (and discriminate against) people with “native blood.” Those scars still show, Barnaby suggests, and the director is adept in showing them to us.

Despite being significant for its ensemble Indigenous cast and stark political messaging, Blood Quantum works best when it leans further into horror lore. Although not lacking in sincerity, the film’s attempts to depict nuanced relationships amid the chaos generally fail; the script isn’t quite up to scratch for the genre-bending manoeuvres Barnaby has attempted.

Yet with characters spewing lines like “You’re gonna shit frisbees” and “It smells like fuckin’ ass in here,” genre fans won't be disappointed. From slaying zombie fish to a chainsaw kill that even Nicolas Cage would be proud of, Barnaby’s players are given plenty of rabbits to pull out of an increasingly absurd hat.

As a funny, gory zombie flick with a premise that’s got more than a spoonful of political satire, Blood Quantum is hard to argue with. When it strives to be a drama, the film’s cracks start to show. Luckily, the chaos is entertaining enough to carry Barnaby's vision over the finish line.

Blood Quantum is now streaming on Shudder via Amazon.

Where to watch online

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