Movie Review: Zombies on the Rez, “Blood Quantum”

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Scream it into the void, even though no one will hear.

Email the board rooms, the film school deans, even though none will reply.

“ENOUGH with the zombie movies!”

Even if you set your zombie apocalypse on an Indian reservation in Quebec, EVEN if you open the film with an old man (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) gutting salmon by the riverside, salmon that won’t stay gutted, is there anything anybody can do with this genre that we haven’t seen before?

In the case of “Blood Quantum”not the catchiest title, BTW — but really in the case of any zombie picture, the answer to that one big proviso remains an emphatic “NO.”

Writer-director Jeff Barnaby sets his film near where he grew up, among the Listuguj Migmaq “First Nation” people of Canada. He’s talking up, in press interviews, the politics and grievances that led to him setting this trip to “zombieland” there, and in 1981, when he remembers the racial divide, the ongoing “townie/rez” conflict, as particularly fraught.

But while its Canadian grey-gloom and slang are a little different, with a little Native language speculation of “the old ways” variety, suggesting the environmental causes of the calamity adding novelty, it’s a drag, man.

And I will watch most any movie set on Native land. Fascinating subculture, an environment rich with dramatic and (as W.P. Kinsella’s stories show) comic possibilities.

This slow-footed and otherwise-generic Native American spin on staggering down “Zed” Lane never takes on much in the line of urgency. It only finds any humor in the morbid situation befalling the Red Crow survivors of the global zombie pandemic briefly, and in the third act.

It’s going to take more than that to make me care, and I dare say I’m not alone.

Police Chief Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) is having a bad day. He’s already shown up to shoot his ex’s dying dog. He gets the call that his old man (Goeman) has something to show him, and sees with his own eyes “Those salmon are GUTTED” and they’re still flopping around, looking for something to bite.

Bailing his two sons, Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) and “Lysol” (Kiowa Gordon) runs them all afoul of a guy coughing up blood, and looking for a bite in the drunk tank.

One more radio call and the Chief is ready to repeat the line he used to his dad, the one that should have been his guiding light all day long.

“What the f— is going on here!?”

The outbreak is coming from the river, or maybe from the “townie” side of it, where the white people live. Traylor barely has time to get his boys, his son Joseph’s pregnant girlfriend (Olivia Scriven), his dad and his ex wife (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) safe.

“Six months later,” welcome to the New Normal, and say goodbye to anything compelling or urgent in the story. We’re treated to a leisurely stroll through the compound where the tribe is holding out, to the bridge they’re “barricaded (with a zombie-chewing snowplow) and to the tensions rising within their little band after half a year of hell.

Lysol is all about “Ain’t nobody immune here but us,” and keeping newcomers out. The wider Rez isn’t shown, but the gimmick is the Red Crow alone are immune. But Charlie, the still-pregnant white girlfriend, keeps finding “rescues.”

If they were bitten before they got there, they and we know what’s coming. A clean cleansing kill, loved ones be damned.

“You’re not gonna wanna see ‘her’ come back,” is the only warning about this process anybody ever gets.

The most pointed political criticism is in the first half of the film, ambulances “from town” that never show up and the like. The title isn’t explained, which is a pointless clue to a “mystery” that’s never a mystery, and a cheat. But on screen, mistrust of “the whites” is ingrained and understandable.

“They haven’t seen a brown person since their grandparents OWNED one!”

Well, “great-great grandparents,” anyway. Stay in school, kids.

Barnaby — he directed “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” — peppers the dialogue with asides about “RC time (Red Crow “slowness,” like CPT),” and how to deal with “Zedcicles” (z for zombie). Name two zombie movies of the past 30 years that haven’t had at least one biker “zed-cicle” wearing a German Army helmet in them.

The effects, the gory makeup and what-not, are first rate, and the means of dispatching zombies creative, but just once or twice. And there’s maybe one moment of pathos, even if the film blunders any “save that baby” urgency.

“Blood Quantum” was headed for AMC Cinemas, but the non-zombie pandemic means AMC is “presenting” this one via streaming on Shudder.com tonight. It’s not worth going out to see, but if you can’t get enough of the Living Dead/Walking Dead, you don’t have to.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic violence, alcohol abuse, profanity

Cast: Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman

Credits: Written and directed A Shudder release.

Running time: 1:37

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