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TIFF 2019: Blood Quantum Review

Thanks to Highball.TV for sponsoring ThatShelf’s 2019 TIFF Coverage!

Blood Quantum takes places in the dreary town of Red Crow, where things went south long before the zombie apocalypse. Poverty, drugs, and alcohol ravaged the community well-before the flesh-eaters showed their rotting faces.

Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) is a small-town sheriff, with plenty on his mind. Not the least of which are his two trouble-making sons. Traylor was far too young when he had his first kid, Lysol (Kiowa Gordon). So, when things didn’t work out with the Lysol’s mother, the boy grew up with a chip on his shoulder the size of a shark bite. Lysol’s younger half-brother Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) is a literal shit disturber – writer/director Jeff Barnaby shows us why in vivid detail. But Joseph has a better head on his shoulder than his big bro. And it’s a good thing too because he is a father to be.

When Traylor shows up to get his boys out of lockup, the drunk sharing their cell goes code red. He keels over in pain holding his guts and starts spewing blood like the elevator doors in The Shining. And in true zombie flick fashion, the jerk springs to life, driven by the impulse to chow down on human flesh.

Every zombie mover ever made has some variation on “That scene.” I’m talking about the moment where some asshole gets bit but keeps it secret from their fellow survivors, only to become zombified and attack the group at the worst possible moment. Blood Quantum flips this trope on its head. The Indigenous inhabitants of the isolated Mi’gMaq community are somehow immune to the symptoms.

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Blood Quantum reaches all the visceral highs you want a zombie movie to hit but does so in a clever way. The apocalypse is going down, and residents in the only safe haven have complicated feelings about the world’s desperate white asylum seekers. You know what they say about karma…

The movie looks like a million bucks. Actually, make that ten million. Nothing turns moviegoers off quicker than a cheesy zombie flick. But rest assured, Barnaby isn’t f*ucking around. He delivers a film with visual flair and emotional gravitas. Everything from the shooting locations to the action setpieces is spot-on, and don’t cheapen the story’s weighty themes.

Michel St-Martin’s cinematography is on-point. He jam-packs the movie with striking compositions. Certain shots look like stylish comic book panels. And the eerie way that St-Martin captures Red Crow makes it look like an Old West ghost town. Most stunning, though, is how he uses the colour red to put you on edge. There are some fantastic shots of crimson sirens slicing through the black of night like lightsabres.

Blood Quantum’s spectral score complements its visual style to perfection. You don’t hear it so much as absorb its bleak energy like it’s wailing from the pit of your stomach.

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What’s a zombie movie without some major gross-outs? Barnaby lets his freak flag fly, throwing in some gnarly encounters. If you consider yourself squeamish, these sequences will haunt you for days. If you grew up worshipping the work of genre movie icons like Stan Winston and Tom Savini, then you’re in for a real treat.

As much as I enjoyed Blood Quantum, it has its blemishes. The movie loses some of its mojo after the first act. There are also pacing issues, and the story doesn’t feature the most intriguing cast of characters. But these issues don’t come close to derailing this refreshing film.

Blood Quantum is a blood-soaked social commentary about rage, fatherhood, and the scourge of colonialism. But the film never forgets its pulpy genre roots — the story includes an ultra-badass sword-wielding grandpa.

I love how Barnaby puts his mark on this exhausted genre. Blood Quantum is another zombie apocalypse flick, sure. But it’s also a story about how festering emotional wounds are as dangerous as any zombie bite.

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Thanks to Highball.TV for sponsoring ThatShelf’s 2019 TIFF Coverage

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