BLOOD QUANTUM (2019)

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Studio:      Shudder
Director:    Jeff Barnaby
Writer:      Jeff Barnaby
Producer:  Robert Vroom, John Christou
Stars:     Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Devery Jacobs, Gary Farmer

Review Score:

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Summary:

Immune to the outbreak due to their unique blood, the residents of an Indian reservation struggle to repair personal relationships during a zombie apocalypse.


Synopsis:     

Review:

On this post-¡°Walking Dead¡± planet of pop culture oversaturation, if you can¡¯t bring at least one fresh dish to the zombie subgenre, you might as well not sit at the table. Fortunately for fans fearing more of the same every time a similar-sounding film or TV show comes along, writer/director Jeff Barnaby¡¯s ¡°Blood Quantum¡± presents plates of novel ideas both big and small. Even though the overall meal includes a couple of expired morsels and some undercooked beats, the movie¡¯s unique backdrop combines with eye-catching slices of splatter to produce an intriguing standout in undead entertainment.

World building begins immediately. It¡¯s 1981 on Canada¡¯s Red Crow Indian Reservation. Elder fisherman Gisigu boats in from the water, slices into his morning¡¯s haul, and dumps handfuls of guts into a lightly rusted bucket. Then a filleted fish unexpectedly buckles on a cutting board until it falls onto dirt to continue flopping. The other fish follow in its fins as Gisigu steps back stunned.

Wider spread panic follows a few hours later when undead humans overrun a hospital. For now, it already feels original to see a zombie outbreak open more innocuously. We¡¯re transported to an environment most people have never set foot inside of. We¡¯re staring at a face and lifestyle not seen everyday. Put this odd piece of puppetry on top and ¡°Blood Quantum¡± starts on a signal that it has sights to show us we don¡¯t often witness.

That¡¯s only one narrow flourish to make the movie different. Down a wider, more critical avenue, ¡°Blood Quantum¡± separates itself through its central conceit.

While they can certainly still be ripped apart by flesh-craving creatures, the blood of indigenous people makes them immune to the virus. This creates a dividing line among survivors, since natives and townies face different sets of risks. Some still seek to open their camp to outsiders. Others on the reservation see an ¡°us versus them¡± situation pitting everyone against anyone who isn¡¯t Indian, not just against zombies.

¡°Blood Quantum¡± bites off quite a bit for a 95-minute movie. The gristly material it chews on isn¡¯t as intently focused on social context as one might expect though.

Obviously, the metaphor about white settlers threatening to overrun the land and make indigenous people extinct sits in the open. Other than its inherent implication, the parallel presents itself without much commentary, primarily since it speaks for itself. Barnaby doesn¡¯t dirty his hands by digging deeper into the depth of that idea. It¡¯s almost a simple transposition of how factions usually form in survival scenarios, except this tribe has more specific motivation than most to be wary of interlopers out for their own interests.

The movie gets more caught up in various interpersonal dramas among its characters, of which there are a lot, arguably more than fit neatly into one standalone film. Half-brothers Joseph and Lysol become de facto figureheads for the warring philosophies. Lysol¡¯s emotional troubles bring out Joseph¡¯s bad behavior, but the impending pregnancy of his white girlfriend Charlie repositions Joseph¡¯s worldview. Their father Traylor, a reservation police officer, has connectivity problems of his own, clouding how he relates to his ex-wife Joss as well as his two sons.

Action pauses at regular intervals for heart-to-heart conversations where everyone tries talking out these issues with one other. Inventive shocks of spectacular slaughter, some of which include chain-sawing through a zombie¡¯s head and more than one rotting amputee attacker, also interject repeatedly to remind the audience of the horror at the film¡¯s heart. But anyone who isn¡¯t into the soap opera drama making up a majority of minutes may not see their narrative needs met.

Spiritually similar to ¡°Stake Land¡± (review here) in broad terms, ¡°Blood Quantum¡± becomes slightly episodic in nature. With secondary players tripling the roster¡¯s numbers, side arcs lead to some scattered storytelling as the movie brakes abruptly to introduce new folks or indulge in sequences that have a hard time hooking into the main plot. I¡¯m not sure what ¡°Blood Quantum¡± seeks to gain by challenging itself to do too many things, other than potentially sow seeds for sequels or a series. Put brighter spotlights on the central cast, hold back on appendages like three brief animated interludes, and a linear path could keep rhythm from getting rickety.

The film fills in remaining spaces with standard staples that are beneath better aspects of the screenplay. For instance, we get a father who hems and haws over having to euthanize his infected daughter before she turns. Another girl hides her bite wound and hopes for the best, as though she too somehow won¡¯t succumb to infection or a miracle cure will pop up in the next sixty minutes.

Kiowa Gordon delivers the hardest hits through Lysol¡¯s conflicts, inadvertently upstaging the cold characterization of lead actor Michael Greyeyes, who doesn¡¯t exactly come across as enigmatic. Uneven acting and questionable contributions from lesser characters futz with the film¡¯s flow almost as often as herky-jerky scene arrangements. Totaled together however, the collected personalities average out to be an engaging ensemble.

When ¡°Blood Quantum¡± sticks to what sets it apart from clich¨¦d setups, namely its reservation setting and impressively gushing gore effects, it endures as something more substantial than routine zombie fiction. We¡¯ve seen this basic premise countless times before, but we haven¡¯t experienced it through the eyes of these particular people. That¡¯s more than enough to make this journey worth taking.

Review Score: 70