It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

It’s always nice to end the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon on a high note!

Blood Quantum is a 2019 Canadian zombie film written, directed, edited and with a score by Jeff Barnaby. The film is set in 1981 on the Red Crow Indian Reservation in Quebec at the onset of a zombie apocalypse, where the Mi’kmaq residents are immune because of their indigenous heritage. Thus, the title of the film, which refers to the Blood quantum laws defining the fraction of one’s ancestors who are documented full-blooded Native Americans “as a way to establish legally defined racial population groups” to prop up and institutionalize governmental racism.

But being immune doesn’t mean you can’t get your guts ripped out, to paraphrase one of the characters.

While the film stands on its own as one of the better zombie films of recent years, what elevates it is the characters’ struggles with the consequences of centuries of oppression and outright attempts at genocide when it comes to potentially serving as a shelter for non-native refugees.

Barnaby, who is Mi’kmaq, shows a keen eye for portraying life on the reservation, both before and after the zombie uprising, giving us realistically complex characters with more nuance and depth than is usual for the genre, while also giving us enough gore to satisfy the biggest gorehounds. There are even short animated transitional segments!

It’s the rare film that can argue about colonial violence, misogyny, and racism, explore drug and alcohol abuse without moralizing, celebrate family even if they’re broken, and have zombies eat both a baby and a penis in graphic detail.

Like the best zombie films, Blood Quantum doesn’t bother trying to explain the outbreak. All we need to know is that white folks are returning from the dead and thanks to their immunity, the Mi’kmaq community at Red Crow Reservation, have been able to set up walls and barricades, making the Res the safest place in the area. White people are beating down the door to get in, and the irony isn’t lost on anybody.

Particularly the character of Lysol (Kiowa Gordon). Gordon plays Lysol with a barely controlled rage that isn’t just targeted at the outside world. There’s self-loathing seething underneath that turns his hostility tragic. He wants nothing to do with the white people that his father, Sheriff Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), feels obligated to help, and ultimately, he becomes a walking, talking, self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.

Traylor has his own self-loathing to deal with, feeling like a failure as a father and a husband, trying to maintain the peace with the help of his doctor ex-wife, Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), his other son Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), his friend Bumper (Brandon Oakes), and his own father, the samurai sword-wielding Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman). There’s not an unenjoyable performance in the film, and in another world, I’d love to see ongoing adventures of Traylor, Bumper, and Gisigu, traveling the land, killing zombies.

But Barnaby doesn’t seem interested in making escapist fantasy, leaning heavily into the nihilistic violence of the zombie apocalypse genre without losing focus on the humanity of the characters. Greyeyes’ portrayal of Traylor, especially, is weighted with a weary acceptance that the flesh-eating “zeds” encroaching on the First Nations community is just the latest attempt to erase their existence.

I have an embarrassingly limited knowledge of North American indigenous film (1998’s Smoke Signals is a favorite, though, and it was good to see Gary Farmer again) and my one post-grad class on Native American Literature doesn’t give me the authority or the experience to really dig deeply into Blood Quantum. What I can say, though, is that this movie satisfies all my zombie film cravings and is one of the strongest genre entries in years.

Somebody cut Jeff Barnaby a check and let’s see what he can do with a blockbuster budget!

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