I’ve often wondered why. After all, why would we – as a society – be so obsessed with seeing one cinematic version of our inevitable doom? It isn’t as if we’re unaware that ‘the big sleep’ is coming for every single one of us, but what is it, specifically, that interests us about plague films? Could it be that there’s this fear deep down inside of everyone that – as crazy as it sounds – unites all of us, regardless of color or creed? Is there some latent behavior somehow genetically stitched into the very core of our DNA that makes audiences crave for yet one more glimpse into the darkest fate that awaits us all?
Truth: much has been written about this collective fascination with ‘zombiedom’ since George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead reanimated the dead in such a way. In fact, I’d argue that so much has been said about them that – unlike life itself – the business of plague films has become a vicious circle: a motion picture sparks the public’s interest, which leads to more films, which only leads to more discussion, which only leads to even more films, etc. upon etc. all the way until the undead are practically everywhere.
Given the breadth of such interest, I’d imagine it’s very difficult to bring something new to the whole zombie genre … but writer/director Jeff Barnaby and his cast and crew swing away with the release of Blood Quantum, now available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray (just in time to inspire you for Halloween). Having seen the film, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about what makes it different than the usual run-of-the-mill ‘living dead’ release.
[NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessarily solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the type of person who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the end for the final assessment. If, however, you are accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …]
From the promotional materials: “The indigenous people in the isolated reserve of Red Crow are immune to the zombie plague that has taken over the nation, but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t at risk. It’s up to Traylor, the tribal sheriff, to protect the families residing on the reserve and a flood of desperate refugees from the hordes of bloodthirsty, walking white corpses that are closing in.”
How does this political commentary contribute to the film?
As fate would have it, the indigenous people of the Red Crow reservation are immune to this particular strain of the zombie virus. Where other storytellers might have gotten lost in the obvious political ramifications of that reality, Barnaby really only uses it as a springboard to explore his characters. Traylor (played by Michael Greyeyes) is the reservation sheriff who has grown hardened over the years having to navigate both sides of the social coin – his own people and the neighboring ‘white folk.’ Joseph (Forrest Goodluck) – one of Traylor’s two sons – is disillusioned the way most normal teenagers are but has found love with Charlie, a white girl who is carrying his unborn child; he acts out his frustration in ways that typical amount to little more than juvenile vandalism. Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) – Traylor’s other boy – is equally disillusioned but chooses to vent his frustration in potentially more destructive way; it’s clear that he’s the story’s ‘ticking time bomb,’ and he can’t wait to drag his two worlds into confrontation.
Still, setting aside Quantum’s social context isn’t all that hard: the core of any good zombie flick is – you guessed it – the thrill ride, and director Barnaby performs masterfully once the end of the world as we know it finally arrives. Be warned: there’s a bit of a time jump – you can’t fashion all of mankind’s expiration in ninety minutes of film – but the story’s set-up is delivered with an almost Hitchcockian elegance – one most audiences probably aren’t expecting given the rules of the zombie genre. Quantum is grim, indeed, when and where it needs to be; and that’s all the average viewer truly cares about with quality horror.
Now, I’m not above pointing out that Quantum has a few flaws. Pacing is off just a bit in the second half, and – as characters are stereotypically prone to do in horror films – Barnaby’s make their own share of boneheaded decisions. Still, as carnival thrill rides go, the film is about as effective as it can be while still relying on its political subtext right up until its last frame. Don’t let those messages intrude upon your entertainment; don’t ask questions about just where a Native American samurai might come from; and you’re likely to be satisfied with this smaller, quieter, gentler (not) depiction of mankind’s inevitable doom.
Recommended. Blood Quantum might be one of the more interesting indie-style zombie films I’ve seen to come down the pike: though it moves along at a leisurely pace (unlike its plague-infected undead), it’s exceedingly well made and boasts solid performances from all of its players. True, it’s a bit uneven at times, neglecting ‘the science’ about where/when the affliction comes from and why it affects only those it does, but – in the end – zombie outbreaks are all about ‘endings’ anyway … and, on that count, it delivers mankind’s finale much better than most.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJE Films provided me with a screener copy of Blood Quantum by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.