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Blood Quantum

So. It looks like this pandemic has been going on for a bit longer than I expected back when the shutdown started and I decided to step away from the blog. I know it’s been a while and I hope this finds you well.

For my part, I’ve been doing relatively well. As of this writing, my home state of Oregon has only seen 157 of the 104,000+ COVID-related deaths in the USA so far. I’ve been working from home until I was finally furloughed this week — it’s lucky I’ve been sitting on a mountain of PTO and I need the week off anyway, so I’ll be fine.

My pirate metal musical — “The Jolly Riot”, set to remount this summer with original songs — has been pushed back to next year, but that didn’t stop me from writing a sequel to it while in quarantine. I’ve also completed a one-act play and numerous short works for The Pulp Stage — tune in to their Facebook page on Thursday nights and you just might hear one of mine. Oh, and I also produced a live online reading of my Shakespearean adaptation of The Princess Bride, that was fun.

Meanwhile, in the world of movies, this is the first time in recorded history when box office grosses have been exactly zero dollars. Many blockbuster films have been delayed, though some others have been released online. An especially famous case was Trolls: World Tour, which saw such massive success that Universal decided to permanently incorporate streaming into its business model. To which AMC responded by cutting off its nose to spite its face.

In addition to the Trolls sequel, I’ve seen Emma, Bloodshot, Scoob! and others hit various streaming platforms over the past few months. Why didn’t I review them? Because Amazon was charging $20 apiece to rent them. Roughly twice the cost of a movie ticket, almost enough to buy the Blu-Ray outright, just to stream a movie on my laptop for three days. Fuck that noise.

But in light of the Pandemic Year and certain racial tensions that have flared up recently, one film came onto my radar that I simply had to address. And all it cost was a 7-day free trial on Shudder. So let’s take a look at Blood Quantum, shall we?

What we’ve got here is a pretty standard zombie flick, with two very important twists. First is that the film takes place in 1981, so this is quite definitely a world without cell phones, the internet, digital media, etc. The second quirk is by far the most important: For whatever reason (very likely some genetic quirk), the residents of the Red Crow reservation are immune to the plague. They can still be eaten, injured, and killed by zombies, but they can’t be infected.

In most zombie/horror/slasher flicks, the token person of color would be a supporting role if that. Hell, movies of any genre that feature Native Americans in any kind of significant role are few and far between. Yet here we are with a film that boasts a solidly Native American cast, led by writer/director/editor/co-composer Jeff Barnaby of the Mi’kmaq tribe. This should be interesting.

Our protagonist is Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), sheriff of the Red Crow Police who’s seen a recent uptick in violent crime and dead animals springing back to life. His ex-wife is Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), a nurse who’s dealing with a sudden shortage in tetanus medication. His son Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) is an imbecile juvenile delinquent, and he’s expecting a baby with his white girlfriend (Charlie, played by Olivia Scriven). Traylor’s other son from a different mother (inexplicably nicknamed “Lysol”, played by Kiowa Gordon) is a more belligerent asshole who frequently joins his little half-brother in the local drunk tank. And then of course we have Traylor’s father (Gisigu, played by Stonehorse Lone Goeman), the tough old fisherman who first spotted all the weird shit going down.

When the first act is done establishing our characters and the zombie plague, we jump ahead six months to when the apocalypse is in full effect. The whole world is overrun with zombies and (so far as anyone knows), the Red Crow reservation is the one last oasis free of the virus. So of course all the paranoid white people flood to the reservation begging for help, without even the faintest hint of irony.

What we’ve got here is a case of racial disparity getting turned upside down. After so many hundreds of years, it’s white people who are completely at the mercy of the First People. The people of the Red Crow set the rules, they determine who to help, and they don’t have to speak a word of English no matter who demands it.

Yes, it’s generally understood that the Red Crow have rules and precautions in place for the sake of everyone’s survival. Even so, white people really have no idea how persistent and addictive white privilege is until they don’t have it anymore. Of course the white plague survivors are testy about being on the inferior end of racial disparity, deprived of the inherent power they and their ascendants have had since birth. This is especially true of the survivors that are hiding zombie bites — why follow the rules if it’ll get them killed?

On the other side, the Red Crow have several generations’ worth of anger to work out. While some are altruistic and genuinely want to help people, we see a few others who relish this opportunity to make the white man beg for mercy. Again, this kind of power is insidious and toxic, and this scenario puts it in the hands of people who aren’t used to having it. Then again, if white people wanted to smuggle in a dormant virus so an unsuspecting Native American tribe might get wiped out from the inside… well, it wouldn’t exactly be the first time that’s happened.

Then there’s the matter of Joseph and his pregnant white girlfriend. Obviously, there’s the burning question of whether the child will inherit the father’s immunity, or even if the child will be infected at birth. Perhaps more importantly, there’s the fact that this child will be the product of a teenage pregnancy, with an idiot father who routinely gets drunk and does stupid shit I don’t dare spoil here.

The point being that this could be the very first child born into a post-zombie world, and there’s no telling how many — or how few — may follow. Are these really the best people to repopulate the planet? Given how deeply flawed all these characters are, and given how fucked up this post-apocalyptic planet is, what kind of world could they possibly leave behind for their children? What kind of world could their children possibly go on to build?

Oh, and did I mention that all of these people are stuck within the same walls while the world is crumbling around them? Because of course that’s going to lead to some tempers boiling over.

With all of that said, I know what you must be wondering: Do we ever see a zombie getting its head split open with a chainsaw? You bet your ass. After six months of hunting zombies and collecting scarred zombie bites, these characters have gotten it down to a fine art. We’re not exactly talking Zombieland levels of clever and intricate kills, but it’s definitely in the same class. We’ve got all the gory fun and body horror you’d expect from the genre, with neatly creative use of blades and bullets.

Of course, it also helps that the filmmakers are sparing and strategic in their placement of scares, placing them for maximum impact while also cutting down on the effects budget. It’s deeply impressive how the filmmakers use their resources, shooting and cutting and placing the action such that every single shot goes a long way.

So are there any nitpicks? Well, there are some scenes that go on a touch too long, and the padding sticks out in an otherwise sprightly 96-minute film. I could also point to a few brief animated segments that completely lost me.

Still, my most prominent nitpicks are with the performances. Not that they’re bad by any means — all of the performances are at least on par with what you might expect from a no-name cast in an indie zombie movie. Still, I found the performances to be sadly uneven in places. A fine case in point is Michael Greyeyes, who seems to be floundering for want of direction until things kick into gear in the second act and he’s all aces from there.

Kiowa Gordon has the opposite problem. His character worked well enough at first, but his turn into an archvillain just didn’t work for me. I get what they were trying to do with the character, but the development arc was too rushed and Gordon couldn’t sell it.

Overall, Blood Quantum works perfectly well as a gory and scary horror movie with a neat race-intensive twist. It’s straightforward enough to deliver all the tried-and-true zombie thrills you know and love, but clever enough in its kills and commentary to deliver something extra. It’s genuinely impressive how the racial commentary is prominent enough to register without distracting from the blood and combat, such that neither gets monotonous or boring.

This one is absolutely worth a recommendation. Definitely check it out.

One Comment

  1. Ping from Sue Diamond:

    Glad to see you back and well. As always enjoy your perspective. Congrats on your theater work. Hope your parents and sister are well too.
    Sue Diamond

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