Toronto Film Review: ‘Blood Quantum’

A Canadian tribal reservation is beset by zombies in a horror opus that's gory yet more stylish than scary.

Jeff Barnaby
Michael Greyeyes, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Devery Jacobs, Gary Farmer. (English, Mi’gmaq dialogue.)

Running time: 98 MIN.

“Blood Quantum” is a term applied to the long-standing, controversial practice of measuring a person’s percentage of indigenous heredity—and by extension, their supposed value, or lack thereof. As the title of Jeff Barnaby’s sophomore feature (following 2014’s more minimally horror-tinged drama “Rhymes for Young Ghouls”), that historic debit becomes a major plus, as the only people here miraculously immune to a zombie epidemic are full-blooded Natives living on Mi’gmaq tribal lands in northern Quebec.

This homegrown opener for TIFF’s Midnight Madness section has numerous strong elements, and the director-writer’s unforced cultural perspective refreshes some very well-trod genre ground, to a point. Still, despite sufficient gore, there’s more style than bite to this undead opus, which does not excel at scares or action set-pieces. It’s nonetheless been sold to Shudder for U.S. distribution, and should attract home-format buyers in other territories with a polished assembly that reflects its status as reportedly the highest-budgeted North American film by an indigenous director to date.

Barnaby wastes no time springing the bad news: Old Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) is alarmed to discover that the salmon he’s just caught are flopping around again after they’ve been gutted. Soon a dog that’s been put down is likewise back to snarling “life.” Then people stop staying dead as well.

All this escalates within a few hours’ course as Red Crow Reservation sheriff Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) and nurse ex-wife Joss (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers) are dealing with the latest high jinks of their teenage son Joseph (Forrest Goodluck), which have once again landed him in the drunk tank. He got there with a little help as usual from older half-brother Alan, aka Lysol (Kiowa Gordon), Traylor’s hell-raising offspring by a previous marriage. But Joe required no fraternal assistance getting into another kind of trouble: namely, making his equally underaged girlfriend Charlie (Olive Scriven) pregnant.

These relatively ordinary cares must take a backseat as the above-named and other area residents find themselves fighting for their lives against a rapidly growing population of fast-moving, flesh-chomping zombies. Just when this crisis appears to be reaching critical mass at about the one-third mark, there’s a blackout followed by a title saying “Six Months Later.” Civilization hereabouts has by then boiled down to surviving immune tribespeople and any fleeing “townies” who’ve turned up sans infection living in a heavily guarded, gated compound.

Ne’er-do-well Lysol naturally enjoys being the chief enforcer, bringing grievous harm to anyone (alive or otherwise) who threatens the community’s fragile well-being. His penchant for partying hasn’t slowed, however, and this professed “a–hole’s” judgment goes from reckless to downright malevolent when he has an unfortunate incident with a “zed” himself while under the influence.

Shot on location, “Blood Quantum” looks fine in Michel St-Martin’s alternately handsome and muscular widescreen photography, while other tech and design contributions are solid. But the script’s initially intriguing leap to a post-zombie-apocalypse scenario soon turns out to have stranded us in all-too-familiar “The Walking Dead” terrain. While the characters here are interesting (as well as nicely played) enough, there’s no time to develop the kind of long-term investment in them that sustains that series.

Without original ideas, an enterprise like this just needs to deliver in visceral suspense terms. But while Barnaby manages to deftly work in his own brand of hard-boiled rural dialogue, and etch indigenous life in knowing, sometimes caustic terms (emphasizing dysfunctional family relations and substance abuse), he doesn’t demonstrate the same knack for producing thrills. There’s little in the way of creepy atmospherics here, let alone major jolts, and the often violent action isn’t staged or edited for maximum impact. Strangely, this is one zombie movie that keeps you interested in things that are usually incidental — cultural differences, problematic relationships — yet falls down when it comes to the basic “Boo!” factor.

Popular on Variety

Toronto Film Review: 'Blood Quantum'

Reviewed at TIFF (Midnight Madness), Sept. 6, 2019. Running time: 98 MIN.

Production: (Canada) An XYZ Films, Madrona Drive, Elevation Pictures and Entract Films presentation in association with Crave of a Prospector Films production. (Int'l sales: XYZ, Los Angeles.) Producers: John Christou, Robert Vroom. Executive producers: Todd Brown, Nate Bolotin, Nick Spicer, Gabe Scarpelli, Ryan Shoup, Larie May, Noah Segal.

Crew: Director, writer: Jeff Barnaby. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Michel St-Martin. Editor: Barnaby. Music: Joe Barrucco.

With: Michael Greyeyes, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Devery Jacobs, Gary Farmer. (English, Mi’gmaq dialogue.)

More Film

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content