Thanks to Shudder, which surprisingly set an early release for the movie, Blood Quantum became available on the streaming service from April 29th.
Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby, Blood Quantum premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, where it was even nominated for the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness line-up. On top of that, the film received a lot of praise from horror fans who either attended TIFF of watched it on Shudder, as well as sitting at a respectable 61 on Metacritic. Therefore, I was really excited to watch the movie, especially because Blood Quantum is a zombie, indie film. And I love both zombie movies and independent cinema!
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Blood Quantum – an Indigenous story of survival
In Blood Quantum we are transported to the isolated Mi’gMaq reserve of Red Crow, where Native Americans are living their lives amongst poverty, drug and alcohol abuse. As you’d expect to happen in a zombie flick, one day the dead come back to life and the people in the res must fight them to survive. This is only the first act of Blood Quantum, though. Cut to 6 months later, the film depicts the effects of a zombie uprising on a First Nations reserve whose residents are personally immune to the plague because of their Indigenous heritage, but must still cope with the consequences of its effects on the world around them, including a wave of white refugees seeking shelter on the reserve.
Despite its not-so-subtle social commentary, Blood Quantum doesn’t shy away from gore and brutal violence, especially in the first act. The first 30 minutes of the movie are, in fact, the most satisfying aspect of it: they’re not particularly well-directed (and there are some downright goofy scenes, such as when a few fish come back to life…), but they’re fast-paced, gruesome and tense enough. When the film reaches the second act, however, things come to a grinding halt: Blood Quantum seems more interested in forcing its goals down the viewer’s throat rather than providing an exhilarating experience.
Agency vs urgency
Where the first act was messy but exciting and fast-paced, the last hour of Blood Quantum feels more like a clumsy rip-off of the Mad Max movies. The formulaic post-apocalyptic setting becomes the stage for dialogues and conflicts that are solely interested at underlying how hard life in the reserve can be. On paper, I love horror films that deal with socio-political issues, but Blood Quantum seems more interested in claiming that it’s got a socio-political agenda rather than making statements on it.
In addition, the insistence on this agency takes away from the urgency of the film. Aside from 10 minutes towards the end, Blood Quantum doesn’t have momentum because the characters are busy bickering with each other, as though there wasn’t a life-threatening menace outside the res.
Unlikeable character and bad acting
Such confrontations between characters could be very interesting but, unfortunately, every protagonist in Blood Quantum is very unlikeable or annoying or both. As a viewer, you should be able to feel for and sympathise with them, but all you want to do is seeing them being munched by hordes of undead! It doesn’t help that the dialogues is cringeworthy at best. For example, a character says to another: “I know your heart is in the right place, but your head is up your ass”. This sentence is corny and lame onto itself, but it also completely loses significance when referred to a guy who just spent the night in jail for sitting on a bridge and shitting on the cars driving underneath. How is the guy’s heart in the right place? He’s clearly just a moron!
On top of that, Blood Quantum features some of the worst performances I’ve seen in a long time (well, since Fantasy Island…): the acting ranges from pretty bad to downright laughably atrocious, with certain sequences where I found myself shocked by the fact that they didn’t ask for a second take. That’s how terrible and embarrassing they felt.
Blood Quantum is a frustrating movie in the worst way possible to me. It has all the elements that would make for a good zombie movie: great gore, unflinching violence, consistently solid makeup effects, a rich concept that could explore compelling themes. However, it also features jarring pacing, terrible acting, unlikeable characters, convenient writing, goofy scenes (and not in a self-aware fashion) and lazy moments.
Overall, it’s a big mess. Jeff Barnaby’s effort to make an original and socially-committed zombie flick is admirable on paper, but the result is a film with no urgency, little tension and very few characters (if any) to care about. As I was saying at the beginning of this review, tons of horror fans and film critics seem to think Blood Quantum is a good movie, so don’t let this article stop you from checking it out.
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