“Classic zombie tale…tied in with a vital Indigenous story”
Naturally, watching films that are based on the premise of sickness and contagion is not what it used to be. Our new reality is posed in the plot of so many films that have dealt with illness, survival, horror, and dystopia. However, my personal experience of watching films rooted in gore, blood, and zombies has survived the pandemic thus far, unrectified. Perhaps, this is true with Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum, due to its unique take on the zombie horror genre that has sent so many films of its kind into the backdrop for their sheer lack of new ideas. This novel perspective is a First Nations’ take on the classic zombie tale, that presents the historical visuals of excessive blood, guts, and murder, tied in with a vital Indigenous story that culminates in an interesting commentary on colonialism and Native bodies.
Blood Quantum takes place on the Mi’qmaq reservation of Red Crow in Quebec, Canada where an elderly gentleman, Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman), witnessed the resurgence of life in the salmon that he had already killed and gutted. Moving past the stereotypical motifs and themes of zombie films, the virus running rampant throughout the reservation does not affect the First Nations individuals – the native inhabitants of Red Crow are immune. The story follows Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), a sheriff and Gisigu’s son, left to deal with the turmoil of his own family. There are tensions with his trouble-making sons, Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) and Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), their relationship as half brothers, as well as a stiff relationship between Traylor and his ex-wife,Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers). Throughout the film, there is no relegating the legacy their family holds on the land, before and after the spread of the virus. Traylor, his sons, his father (the elderly gentleman from the opening scene), and Joss, who is also a nurse, work in tandem in the compound on the reservation to protect and heal, as they are immune to the virus. This includes the risk that is posed with Joseph’s pregnant girlfriend, Charlie (Olivia Scriven), who is non-Native and has is at risk of contracting the virus, and questions arise of whether their unborn child is susceptible to infection.
This film offers zombie film fans all of the blood, shredded flesh, and gore that they could ask for with exhilaration and captivation, but it goes even further than that. In a hierarchy that is built in a crisis bookended by the revival of the dead, Indigenous people are those who are safe from the mutiny that ensues from the outside world. The untouchable qualities of the Mi’qmaq tribe lend commentary to the sacredness of Natives in a postcolonial world, where in colonizing it, so much sacrilege and carnage was brought upon their lands and culture. Gisigu comments in Mi’qmaq, “Who says we’re immune? Maybe the Earth just forgot about us,” tying the film back to the historicity of Indigenous people.
Destruction is an omnipresent reality for Indigenous community from the part of colonizers, which is why it is shameful that there is such a lack of Native voices and bodies in television in cinema. Taking these injustices into account, Barnaby, a Native from the Red Crow reservation, interweaves keys facets of Mi’qmaq culture – notably the language, apparel, and importance of story as unique aspects of this zombie thriller – “If I don’t make it out of here, I want you to tell my grandchild big stories about me” (translated from Mi’qmaq).
Blood Quantum does not exist to present a completely revolutionary idea, rather to expand upon the gaps in horror films when it comes to Native representation. Jeff Barnaby is expanding the genre in the right direction, providing room for the voices and stories that have been missing from our screens for far too long.
Director: Jeff Barnaby
Screenwriter: Jeff Barnaby
Producers: John Christou, Robert Vroom
Principal Actors: Michael Greyeyes, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers