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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 including two trouble-making sons. Traylor was far too young when he had his first kid, Lysol (Kiowa Gordon). 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 – and writer/director Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) shows audiences why in vivid detail. But Joseph has a better head on his shoulder than his big bro. It’s a good thing, too, because he is a father to be.

When Traylor shows up to get his boys out of the lock-up, the drunk sharing their cell goes code red. He keels over in pain holding his guts. He 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 has some variation on “That scene.” I’m talking about the moment where some asshole gets bit but keeps it secret from his or her 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 one wants a zombie movie to hit and it does so in clever ways. 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*cking around. He delivers a film with visual flair and emotional gravitas. The locations, production design, and action set-pieces are all spot-on.

Michel St-Martin’s cinematography packs Blood Quantum with striking compositions. Shots evoke stylish comic book panels and graphic novels. 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 audiences on edge. There are some fantastic shots of crimson police 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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Every good zombie movie needs its major gross-outs, too, and Barnaby lets his freak flag fly. Blood Quantum delivers some gnarly encounters. If you consider yourself squeamish, these sequences will haunt you for days. However, if you grew up worshipping the work of genre icons like Stan Winston and Tom Savini, you’re in for a real treat.

Blood Quantum admittedly loses some of its mojo after the first act. There are also pacing issues, and some characters are more intriguing than others are. 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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