From the Archives: Blood Quantum is a zombie movie with real substance and representation

From the Archives: Blood Quantum is a zombie movie with real substance and representation

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

“If they are red they are dead. If they’re white they bite.” So reads the graffiti emblazoned on the giant metal door that separates the compound of survivors from a world overrun with zombies. This phrase is in reference to a new twist on the classic zombie infection: In the world of Blood Quantum, the Mi’gmaq people are immune to the zombie virus, whereas white people are easily infected. There’s no word on whether it affects other races, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that the indigenous people cannot become zombies, and now the responsibility has fallen to them to try and maintain order in a world gone sideways.

The title Blood Quantum is in reference to the blood quantum laws enacted in the early American colonies, which sought to measure the indigenous status of individuals by making a ratio of their ancestry. For example, a person with a 100% indigenous father and a 100% non-indigenous mother would have a blood quantum of 1/2. While this system was at points used by certain tribes in determining and individual’s eligibility for leadership, the laws are mostly remembered for their application in historical indigenous erasure. Blood quantum not high enough? Well you don’t get to call yourself a native, and thus you are not privy to the minuscule benefits offered by the colonizers. At the same time, a low blood quantum does not protect an indigenous person from the many persecutions enacted against them by said colonizers. It’s a lose/lose situation.


How interesting, then, for writer/director Jeff Barnaby to apply this idea to a movie that, much like other zombie flicks, is allllll about blood. Barnaby, who was born on a Mi’gmaq reserve in Quebec, brings, through his First Nations heritage, a fresh voice to a tired genre, and frankly, it’s downright invigorating.

The film begins on the Red Crow Indian Reservation in 1981. Sheriff Traylor (an excellent Michael Greyeyes) is making his rounds. There are some strange goings on in town. His father Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) is prepping some freshly caught fish when he notices that they’re still very much alive even after being gutted. A rabid dog put down by Traylor himself simply won’t stay dead. And when Traylor’s son Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) finds himself in the drunk tank with a particularly bitey cellmate, things get wild pretty fast. Add to that some tensions with Joseph’s mother (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), and it’s shaping up to be a rough day.

Fast forward a few months, and the reservation is now a stronghold, consisting of the immune Mi’gmaqs as well as a large contingency of non-indigenous folk, who are hiding out and waiting for the apocalypse to pass. This, along with a variety of familial tensions, snowballs into a full blown zombie story in exciting, terrifying ways. I’ll leave the details out for the sake of preserving your surprise, but man oh man, shit gets wild.


Barnaby’s script smartly uses the entire ensemble to tell a character-driven story where it’s easy to care about everyone involved. While so many zombie movies are able to coast on novelty, Blood Quantum tells a thematically strong tale that would be compelling even if the undead remained at bay for the entire runtime. And with an excellent cast consisting almost entirely of First Nations actors, the final product feels new because, well, it is. Indigenous voices are underserved, but it’s my hope that films like Blood Quantum will open the door further. Just having an underrepresented flavor gives the film a new angle, and the clever ways in which the thematic concerns are woven into the texture of the narrative make it as educational and thought provoking as it is exciting.

All representative aspects aside, Blood Quantum is a total banger of a zombie movie. Gorehounds will surely delight in the explosive, dripping violence that occurs with stunning regularity. The effects are absolutely fantastic, employing a mixture of practical grue and CGI splatter (which, for maybe the first time ever, looks great). It made me cringe as much as it made me squeal with glee, and there’s no end to the creative ways that bodies, both alive and undead, are disassembled. One gag in particular, involving a second story window and some tenacious intestines has to be seen to be believed.

“You don’t have to reload a sword” says Gisigu when asked why he won’t use a gun to fight zombies.

Bad. Ass.

Shudder released this title by surprise earlier this week, in yet another kickass, progressive move from my favorite streaming service. As an added bonus, they did so at midnight — and while this flick is indeed perfect for a midnight crowd, Blood Quantum is not empty novelty entertainment. This is thought provoking cinema at its finest. It just happens to feature a lot of people getting ripped to shreds.

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