Photo: TIFF
by Luke Gorham Film

Blood Quantum | Jeff Barnaby

April 27, 2020

Notionally, Blood Quantum works. Conceived in the same think tank as Inglorious Basterds, Jeff Barnaby’s latest fuses zombic epidemia with issues of indigeneity, using both the anti-immigration fervor of the present and the colonialist aggression of the past as fodder for role reversal fantasy. Even the title here (and its implicit utilization in-film) operates as an ironic middle finger, poking fun at the mathematical quantification of what it means to be First Nations people. But theoretical praise is about all that can be offered Barnaby’s film: little of the filmmaker’s tables-turned provocation is explored with any depth, and instead opts for a narrative that is more concerned with rudimentary notions of nature versus nurture and thought-exercise moralism.

Dialogue gestures toward an environmentalist bent, or even a preoccupation with native fatalism, but all that proves to be shallow throwaways, as the focus, instead, continues to shift back to the film’s pleather-clad, post-punk villain (an anarchic aesthetic that’s now clearly a fixation for Barnaby, after Rhymes for Young Ghouls), even as the character’s role as part of this internal conflict remains perplexing. Other dialogue includes such deadpan brain-melters as “You’re going to shit frisbees,” and at another point a pregnant woman’s vagina is analogized to Pandora’s Box, while the script mostly operates in service of expository dumps, consisting of plot or character motivation, when it isn’t trading in awkward exclamatories.

The film’s horror mechanics aren’t much better, opting for excess at every opportunity — including a literal dick-gobbling scene — and oddly excising the looming threat of zombies for most of the runtime in favor of occasional attacks. What’s lost is any palpable tension, a decision that could have been mitigated by effective character drama — but that, too, is undone by exaggerated dynamics and stilted line deliveries. This is all superficial claptrap, material that is frustratingly rich in mineable and necessary discourse, but that’s left mishandled under the influence of baser instincts.

You can currently stream Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum on Shudder.

Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2019 | Dispatch 3.