TIFF Review: 'Blood Quantum' Shuffles the Zombie Genre Forward Directed by Jeff Barnaby

Starring Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Olivia Scriven
TIFF Review: 'Blood Quantum' Shuffles the Zombie Genre Forward Directed by Jeff Barnaby
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It appears that the zombie renaissance is officially behind us — or at least as dead as the genre can fittingly get — which means that now is the perfect time to start pushing things forward, to prime the world for the next zombie revolution to come, a goal that Blood Quantum firmly achieves. Written and directed by Mi'kmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, Blood Quantum incorporates many facets of Indigenous culture and storytelling while hitting all the beats of the zombie genre. It's as much vital and relevant cultural commentary as it is a gory, bloody horror film.
 
The film's clever premise is centred around a zombie outbreak that curiously doesn't affect Indigenous people, which turns the fictional Red Crow Mi'kmaq Reserve (also the setting for Barnaby's previous feature, Rhymes for Young Ghouls) into a safe haven. Police chief Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) aims to keep the peace, both with the constant threat of the zombies and with infighting between his two sons, impressionable but kind-hearted Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and rash, brooding Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), which threatens to upend the social order of the reserve.
 
Barnaby uses the film's opening act to set up a varying series of conflicts at a measured pace, striking a nice balance between family drama and bloody horror, with brief animated sequences and slice-of-life scenes that calmly showcase life on the reserve to deftly set up an immersive world. The film hits a bit of a roadblock partway through, however, when a shattering betrayal drives up the tension to an appropriately gruesome finish, but at the expense of the delicately laid out character work that drove the film's first half.
 
But it does come together in the end. Olivia Scriven, of Degrassi and Black Conflux, carries the film's final act as the ailing, pregnant Charlie, and her presence as Blood Quantum's one white protagonist offers important questions about the nuances of reconciliation. Throughout the film's tense, still denouement, the dominos that Barnaby set up at the beginning pay off compellingly. (Elevation)