Blood Quantum (2020)

You would be forgiven for never wanting to see another zombie movie again. The genre was niche enough in its 70s & 80s heyday, to the point that it was synonymous with just one filmmaker’s name—Romero—with plenty of leftover room for loonier weirdos like Raimi, Jackson, and Fulci to play around in the margins without wholly repeating the master’s territory. After the last decade or so, however, just the term “zombie apocalypse” alone is enough to send even the most horror-hungry audiences running to the hills out of madness & boredom, as the market has become ludicrously oversaturated with zombie #content. I’m not sure if the genre hit its point of no return with the Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse novelty handbook, the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies literary remix, or season 230 of The Walking Dead, but it’s clear that most horror nerds are fatigued with the deluge of the undead. I’m not totally tapped out on zombies just yet myself, though, even if only because I was never compelled to watch the Walking Dead series that sucked the well dry. The appeal of zombies as a genre device has mostly stayed fresh for me, as I continue to appreciate the flexibility of the metaphore. There’s nothing especially compelling to me about the survivalist, doomsday prepper bent of most modern zombie media, but there are still plenty of outlier examples where storytellers discover new thematic purposes for the undead in metaphor: the monstrous stench beneath America’s idealized Conservative past in Fido, the unwelcome return of Nazi ideology in Overlord & Dead Snow, romantic relationships that rot far beyond their expiration date in Life After Beth, and even low-budget zombie #content production as the embodiment of modern filmmaking in One Cut of the Dead. In my eyes, it’s still okay to keep making zombie movies even in this incredibly crowded market; you just better do something interesting with the metaphor to justify the indulgence.

Blood Quantum has no problem satisfying that very simple criterion in making a worthwhile modern zombie film, offering a fresh metaphorical context for the genre I’m certain I haven’t seen before. Set in an alternate-history 1980s, the film details a zombie breakout among white Canadian urbanites that eventually reaches an isolated First Nations reservation of the Miꞌkmaq tribe. It appears that Indigenous people are immune to the zombie virus, putting the white outsiders that gather at the gates at the tribe’s mercy. Likewise, the Miꞌkmaq people themselves are at risk if the outsiders they shelter in their community prove to be unknowingly infected. This conflict between the First Nations people vs. their volatile white interlopers is obviously rich with potential for metaphorical extrapolation. If you really wanted to, you could probably map out an entire history of white settlers endangering & effectively extinguishing the land’s Indigenous inhabitants over the course of the movie – starting with the Miꞌkmaq’s tribe’s apparent adaptability to a lethal environment that’s dangerous to outsiders, and extending to how their humanist pity for the invaders eventually leads to their own demise. It’s a line of interpretation that the movie actively encourages, especially in details like the outsiders’ blankets being infected with the zombie virus, iconography that deliberately recalls smallpox outbreaks of the past. Curiously, the film also works on another level as a kind of power fantasy where the economic & healthcare vulnerability many Indigenous peoples suffer on modern reservations is reversed, putting white oppressors on the receiving end of a shitty deal for a change. It’s all very fluid & fun to pick apart, like zombies pulling apart the wet, viscous entrails of a freshly split-open victim. And since director Jeff Barnaby grew up on a Miꞌkmaq reservation himself, it seems to be coming from a genuine, authentic place, which is even rarer in modern zombie media.

All that said, Blood Quantum‘s merits as a colonialism metaphor aren’t likely enough to overpower any potential audience fatigue with the zombie genre at large. Outside its central conceit and cultural context, it’s very much a straight-forward zombie movie, one that owes a lot of its visual & storytelling textures to The Walking Dead in particular. It’s a solid genre entry on that front, especially in how hard it leans into the post-Romero gloom & gore of the genre by making sure no character is safe from having their head smashed open or their torso bifurcated by chainsaw. It even cuts some of its thematic seriousness by indulging in juvenile jock humor inolving defecation & fellatio, softening up its political severity with some classic Raimi & Jackson-flavored goofery. However, the real selling point of the film is the way it finds yet another new application for the zombie apocalypse as a literary metaphor, which is quite a feat considering how many times that well has been returned to over the decades. Whether or not a new metaphor alone is enough to draw you back into the genre is up to you, as the film entirely plays it straight as a genre entry elsewhere. You have to be onboard for some of the same-old same-old to appreciate those new textures.

-Brandon Ledet

5 thoughts on “Blood Quantum (2020)

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