The very best zombie movies are never simply about the dead coming back to life. Sure, the good ones smear the screen with buckets of blood but just as important as the gore are the brains, and not just the kind the undead use as entrees. The memorable ones use the flesh-hungry creatures as metaphors for societal ills. George A. Romero knew this and infused his movies with allegories to social justice and consumerism, among other issues. Director Jeff Barnaby knows this as well. His exciting new zombie film, “Blood Quantum,” new to VOD this week, contains a powerful central premise: Indigenous people put in danger by allowing white folks on their land.
The film begins with an ancient settler’s proverb. “Take heed to thyself, make no treaty with the inhabitants of the land you are entering.” It’s a portentous warning that foreshadows “Blood Quantum” action. Set on an isolated Mi’gmaq reserve called Red Crow, it takes place before, during and after a plague that has turned most of the world into bloodthirsty zombies. The Red Crow, however, are immune, placing tribal sheriff Traylor (“Fear the Walking Dead’s” Michael Greyeyes) in the position of having to protect the reserve, including ex-wife Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), sons Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) and Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), Joseph’s pregnant girlfriend Charlie (Olivia Scriven) and father Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman), from hordes of undead outsiders.
“Blood Quantum” offers up the blood and guts you expects from a movie like this but director Barnaby also infuses every frame with a vivid sense of indigenous heritage. From the title—which refers to a much-despised colonial blood measurement system used to establish a person’s Indigenous status—to using a zombie apocalypse as metaphor for the fight against annihilation by colonial settlers, it drips with social awareness and gore.
A new take on the zombie apocalypse tale, it brings a fresh perspective to a much-examined genre. The characters are well defined and have emotional arcs amid the madness and skull crushing. The use of occasional animation sections adds visual interest to an already cool looking film—Barnaby has a deadly eye for composition—and will even make you laugh from time to time. A broken narrative timeline doesn’t work as well it should but Barnaby and Co. deliver on entertainment and intellectual levels.
Come for the entrail eating, stay for the cultural observations… and more entrail eating.