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Blood Quantum Movie Review: Invasion and Unsettling

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BY May 2, 2020
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Blood quantum, the concept, is controversial. It refers to one’s degree of Native American blood. The United States government created the concept and they established the parameters. However, it should come as no surprise that many (most? all?) Native Americans don’t believe that non-natives can or should decide who is native. Native identity is particular and it’s special. But what if it were also protective? That’s something Jeff Barnaby explores in this film, which I’ll explore in my Blood Quantum movie review.

What It’s All About

blood quantum movie review image via Prospector Films, Elevation Pictures, and Shudder

First it starts with the fish. In 1981 Quebec, on the (Mi’kmaq) Red Crow reservation, Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) is gutting his catch. He’s probably done this hundreds of times before. This time, though, there’s a problem. Even after he removes their innards, the fish still flop.

After that, the phenomenon spreads. It touches other animals, like dogs, but not moose or deer. And then it moves higher up the food chain. But the folks of the Red Crow rez, like lawman Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), learn something curious. Whatever this sickness is, that’s turning animals and people into the hungry undead, the natives are immune. But anybody’s vulnerable to being eaten alive.

After that, the reservation becomes one of the only safe places for miles, one of the only safe places maybe anywhere. But tensions rise, as they often do in these apocalyptic situations. Traylor’s sons, half-brothers Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), are particularly at odds. Lysol, real name Alan, has possessed a barely-contained resentment for his younger sibling since they were younger. Now that they’re stuck together in this place, with Joseph’s pregnant (white) girlfriend Charlie (Olivia Scriven) bringing in more desperate white refugees every day, that resentment threatens to erupt.

A Novel Twist on the Zombie Tale

Indian removal and outright murder certainly killed a large number of Native Americans, Inuit, and First Nations people in the first centuries after contact. However, oppressive policies (and murder) only went so far. Natives were also particularly vulnerable to disease. In fact, some experts believe that illnesses like measles and smallpox killed up to 95%–NINETY-FIVE PERCENT–of the new world’s natives. (And it’s still dangerous.) As such, the basic premise of this movie comes almost as a revelation. Sicangu Lakota rapper Frank Waln has a lyric that goes, “We’re from the earth, it made us strong.” And this movie asks, what if that were literally true?

Of course, that premise puts the folks of Red Crow in a unique position. They are now the arbiters of life and death; they will shape the future of the land. Besides the fractured family dynamics, this unique position is the biggest impetus for the tension in the newly-fortified Red Crow community. Lysol, for example, finds it hard to tolerate the role of savior. After all, why would natives owe these settlers anything?

Blood Quantum Movie Review

blood quantum movie review image via Prospector Films, Elevation Pictures, and Shudder

For the most part, this is a good movie. It’s almost great. The first act of the film, as the “zed” illness becomes apparent, is great. It’s tightly written and efficiently told. However, the latter acts of the film are more sprawling, and as a consequence, not as effective.

It suffers from the same issue as last year’s Black Christmas. It’s trying to be both a horror movie and a political statement, this time on colonialism, but falters in juggling both. (It is, however, still better at it than Black Christmas.) Writer and director Jeff Barnaby has conceived a smart idea, but I would have liked it all more if he’d made the execution a little sharper, a little more pointed. (The moment when a white refugee hollers at Traylor and another character to “Speak English!” is blunt, but appreciated.)

But on that note, if it’s sharp objects and blood you’re after, then you’ll find it here. Befitting its title, this movie is awash in blood, and it isn’t afraid to show us some truly gnarly images. I just wish it’d gone as far with the social commentary. This isn’t a bad movie, not at all. It could have used more development, especially with its characters, but it’s still worth watching. And not just because it’s the first movie with a native director, crew, and predominantly native cast. But that doesn’t hurt, not at all.

Blood Quantum is currently playing on Shudder. You can watch the (red band) trailer for it below.

What are your thoughts on Blood Quantum? Let us know on social media or comment below.

(For more information on the controversy behind blood quantum, this is a nice start.)

featured image via Prospector Films, Elevation Pictures, and Shudder

MoviesBlood QuantummoviesZombies

Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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