'Blood Quantum' Review: Somehow, Here's A Fresh Take On The Zombie Movie [TIFF 2019]

Blood Quantum, the second feature film from Rhymes for Young Ghouls' Jeff Barnaby, opens with an intense ancient settler's proverb that reads, in part: "Take heed to thyself, make no treaty with the inhabitants of the land you are entering," lest a lot of really heinous things happen, apparently.

It's an ominous and telling start to a film that follows the Mi'gmaq community of Red Crow and their police chief Traylor (a great Michael Greyeyes) just before, during and six months after a zombie outbreak. Soon, the undead apocalypse has decimated the rest of the earth's population, but the Red Crow are immune to the zombie virus, and they must decide amongst their population whether to allow into the reserve the non-Indigenous people arriving to take shelter from the hordes of undead.

Like the best of zombie cinema, Blood Quantum is deeply steeped in sociopolitical conversations. It's got a lot to say about colonialism and Indigenous erasure, but it never forgets, in these larger discussions, to focus on the more intimate concerns of character. Traylor's a terrific role for Greyeyes, flawed but strong, and he's surrounded by a cast of equally captivating characters: his formidable ex-wife Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), his good egg son Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and bad egg son Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), Joseph's pregnant girlfriend Charlie (Olivia Scriven) and Traylor's prodigiously badass father Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman, an absolute standout). Blood Quantum takes the time to introduce all of these characters at length, giving context for their relationships and histories, really investing us in their stories before, you know, they start dying.

The film's a bit plodding and all over the place at times, but when it's good it's great, emotionally affecting, fun and gory as hell. And there's a lot of visual interest here, including stunning animated segments that make it feel unlike any other zombie movie I've ever seen, even if the fascinating and nuanced Mi'gmaq angle hadn't already distinguished the film.

And, listen, Blood Quantum's all-over-the-placeness isn't always a bad thing, either, offering, among its more noble aspirations, a far-out brain feast of skull crushing, dick eating and entrails upon entrails (honestly, so many entrails). This movie, bleak as it is, has a sense of humor about itself, and it's very pleased with its own gruesomeness. You'll be pleased, too.

While the plot loses some of its elasticity by the end, going a little loosey-goosey, Blood Quantum manages to hang onto its impact. We really give a damn about this story, about these characters and their worldly concerns, both large and small. Blood Quantum makes some important points, gives us stuff to care about and then drenches it all in audacious gore. And isn't that exactly what we want from our zombie movies?

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10