Blood Quantum


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blood Quantum
"There's some interesting material here but there's also much that's mediocre."

It begins with salmon. In a startling opening sequence, a fisherman sees his catch, already gutted, leap and flop about on his filleting table. Later we will learn that it can infect dogs. And then there's what it does to humans - or to some humans. Mi'gMaq people, as it turns out, are immune.

The idea of genetic resistance to a disease that doesn't advantage white people is radical and full of promise. Unfortunately it's the only really strong idea this film has and it's not developed to the point where it can sustain the viewer for 96 minutes. There's some interesting material here but there's also much that's mediocre. With literally dozens of new zombie films emerging every year, they need solid writing and performances all the way through if they're going to engage an audience that has seen most of it before.

Blood Quantum revolves around a small group of Mi'gMaq people who barricade themselves into a safe zone at the edge of town - a space still more limiting than the reservation they're used to, but necessary in light of the fact that, as they point out early on, being immune to an infection doesn't mean being immune to being torn to pieces. Most of them are covered in scars from fights with the undead. Into this safe zone they have shepherded several dozen white people who are at far greater risk on the outside. As one would expect, not everybody is in agreement about the wisdom of this. Should they really be expending their energy protecting people who can't easily contribute? Is it safe for them to share their home with these people, given how quickly infection could potentially spread among them? Desperate for help, the white people can't be trusted not to try and hide bites. Underlying it all, though most hesitate to ask it, is another question: what do they owe to the descendants of people who drove their ancestors off their land, and worse?

The issue is further complicated from Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) because he has a white girlfriend (Olivia Scriven). She's pregnant and worried about what will happen if their baby isn't immune - especially if it contracts the virus whilst still in her womb. The situation is driving a wedge between Joseph and his best friend (Kiowa Gordon) - whose name, Lysol, hints at a history that could not have been imagined when the film was made. Both have had their run-ins with the police in the past and as Lysol seems perpetually on the edge of doing something dangerous, there's tension within the Mi'gMaq community as well as without.

From a narrative perspective, the problem is that this tension is mismanaged. Characters discuss a bad thing that could happen, the bad thing happens, people die and nobody learns anything. Whilst this may seem today like a realistic depiction of a pandemic, it doesn't make for very interesting cinema, and we don't get to know the characters well enough to care about their fates. Female characters - including Joseph's mother, the medic holding the community together - are particularly weakly written. Joseph's father (Michael Greyeyes) has the makings of a serviceable action hero but the action scenes are poorly shot and lack the style that might have made this work.

There's a sense that this is a film written from a very personal perspective. It includes little anecdotes that appear to have been lifted from real life and would doubtless be more entertaining if one knew those involved. As it is they just serve as filler, doing nothing to advance the plot. The film does have its moments, however. The ingenious (if not very sustainable) way that the survivors have blocked a nearby bridge will have genre fans cheering in delight.

Blood Quantum has some smart things to say about deeper issues but fails to deliver on a simpler level. It lacks energy and personality. There's a great film to be made based on this premise, but this is not it.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2020
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Blood Quantum packshot
The dead are coming back to life outside the isolated Mi'gMaq reserve of Red Crow, except for its Indigenous inhabitants who are strangely immune to the zombie plague.
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Director: Jeff Barnaby

Writer: Jeff Barnaby

Starring: Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman

Year: 2019

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Canada


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