The zombies have always been a metaphor.
The 400-Word Review: Blood Quantum
By Sean Collier
May 28, 2020
That’s not news; whether they’re standing in for a societal other or representing a less-than-savory aspect of our shared humanity, fiction of the undead has rarely (if ever) been about the ghouls themselves. What’s often overlooked, though, is that the shambling hordes are sometimes intentional metaphor — and sometimes accidental metaphor.
In “Dawn of the Dead,” Romero’s mallbound hordes were, of course, a barely-veiled comment on consumerism. But in “Night of the Living Dead,” the pivotal commentary on race relations — a police posse shooting an innocent black man alongside their zombie mop-up efforts — was pure happenstance. (It just so happened that the best actor the producers knew was black; the script didn’t specify.)
In “Blood Quantum,” a remarkably timely new zombie thriller streaming on Shudder, both accidental and intentional commentary abound. The film follows a group of First Nations people in modern-day Quebec; when a zombie plague sweeps the world, our heroes quickly realize that only indigenous people are immune. The reservation is remote enough that it can be effectively secured; the trouble arrives when white survivors begin to arrive, possibly bringing the disease with them — and begging for help.
Writer/director Jeff Barnaby, who is of Mi'kmaq heritage, clearly intended his commentary on colonialism and displacement; if the text of the film didn’t make that clear, a bitter passage that opens the film spells things out. Long-seated, generational divisions are brought to the fore — and are none too hidden even before the dead walk, as evidenced by hard feelings directed at mixed-race couples inside the reservation.
The timeliness of “Blood Quantum,” however, couldn’t have been anticipated. Remote, immune populations building walls to keep out the sick? Disease checks and the fear of asymptomatic carriers? Hard questions about immigration at the time of a pandemic? How could any of that have been anticipated when Barnaby was conceiving this movie two years ago?
Undoubtedly, a zombie movie intentionally commenting on COVID-19 is coming soon. (Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not here already.) “Blood Quantum” serves less as polemic commentary and more as a dark demand for consideration of these issues, whether or not there’s a pandemic on.
Oh, and horror fans: It’s a pretty formidable zombie flick on its own merits, too. I don’t know why grandpa had a samurai sword at his pawn shop, but it sure came in handy.
My Rating: 8/10
“Blood Quantum” is streaming now on Shudder.