As a Canadian, I’m embarrassed to admit that my exposure to Indigenous cinema has been rather limited. Part of this has to do with the relative lack of commercially available Indigenous films, but most of it has to do with my own lack of effort in exploring this part of Canadian cinema. Watching Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum wasn’t just a soft nudge to rectify this wrong, it was a deservedly hard kick in the can.
Set in the 1980s, the film revolves around a Mi'gmaq community on the cusp of what appears to be a zombie infestation. The kicker here is that those of Indigenous descent are somehow immune to the transformative powers of the undead, and fast forward months later, are keepers of a surviving reserve in a post-apocalyptic world. Michael Greyeyes leads the cast as a disgruntled officer and father, with Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Brandon Oakes and many others rounding out a terrific ensemble of talented actors.
Although the zombie genre can seem overplayed at times, Blood Quantum manages to be creative, while somehow also maintaining the genre’s known sensibilities. By embedding Indigenous oppression and politics into the storyline, the film is elevated beyond an action packed thrill ride, that on its own, would have made for a perfectly entertaining piece of cinema. Instead, we get something that’s both entertaining and subversively meaningful. This level of social commentary is certainly unique for a genre film, and the experience is both rewarding and emotionally charged.
The violence in Blood Quantum is also quite raw and seems almost intentionally unrefined. When the blood spews, it looks real and feels earned. The film definitely deserves its spot on the Midnight Madness lineup. And can we just take one second to acknowledge that Stonehorse Lone Goeman will forever be the most badass grandpa ever depicted on screen? He’s such a menacing presence that somehow still manages to be warm and sensible.
One of the best things about attending film festivals, especially one like the Toronto International Film Festival, is the opportunity to discover new cinemas and filmmakers. Even though access to Indigenous films isn’t barred by any means, and really just takes a bit more effort than catching the latest blockbuster at my local Cineplex theatre, Blood Quantum was a real source of discovery for me. Once the festival is over, I’ll be catching up on years of Indigenous cinema. If you're like me and have also been ignorantly unaware of Indigenous films, I suggest you do the same.