You don’t name things that eat you.
A Red Crow reservation citizen in Jeff Barnaby‘s Blood Quantum asks the question of whether they as indigenous people are immune to a vicious zombie outbreak that’s taken over North America or have simply been forgotten by the Earth during its cleanse. It’s easy to understand such a defeatist attitude considering the world at-large has done the latter for centuries. Colonialists slaughtered, infected, and cordoned off natives from lands they sought and stole, continuing to isolate them even today onto their tiny swaths of property with walls built by racism both systemic and immediate. But we know the real answer to why the Red Crows are able to survive bites is the opposite. They live because the Earth remembers how they always treated her as a respected equal.
Who these men and women are as “other” to the townies across the river is therefore their salvation. As white people, dogs, and fish succumb to this unknown infection, Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) and the community he watches over as Sheriff find themselves positioned on priceless real estate. If they can somehow seal off the bridge and insulate themselves outside of search parties for food, resources, and survivors, they can sit out the apocalypse. And once the first of them is bitten only to discover the wound inexplicably heals over without any ill effects, they also realize their ability to take risks in pushing back the plague. They’re suddenly perched at the top of a hierarchy constructed to keep them down—dictating rules and providing shelter to their persecutors.
Therein is the tenuous hold Traylor has over the situation. While he and his loyalists see their role as protectors of humanity no matter the color of your skin or potential for infection, some have been unable to separate themselves from the abuses they suffered simply because they were born Red Crow. Traylor has a hand in that himself thanks to his inability to be a father to his eldest son (Kiowa Gordon‘s Lysol) when he needed a savior from foster homes in his youth. Societal pressures and prejudices led him down a path that he still can’t quite escape as evidenced by an ex-wife (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers‘ Joss) and second son (Forrest Goodluck‘s Joseph) living with resentment, but law enforcement gave him a purpose. Lysol, however, has none.
The boy only has hate in his heart—a hate he has every right to possess. Where it gave Lysol a penchant for self-destruction before, it now sets him up as a powder keg ready to blow and kill them all. He sees the number disparity between natives and those given sanctuary. He also knows it only takes one of them to lie about their health for this safe haven to burn to the ground. Immunity to the virus simply means they can withstand a bite. If a hundred zombies overrun them without warning, however, a bite is the least of their problems. And who’s to say it doesn’t happen on purpose? White colonists have fought to erase them since landing on shore. They haven’t earned any trust.
Barnaby does a great job baking this centuries-old dynamic into every frame of Blood Quantum. There’s the obvious bond between white and brown skin with Joseph’s girlfriend Charlie (Olivia Scriven) being pregnant with their child. And there’s the philosophical conflict that floats above wherein white men spent generations spilling native blood as though it was worthless only to presently find out the short supply that remains is their last line of defense from extinction. It therefore also means that survival as a species is solely dictated by diversity. Without integration and equality, fear will continue to rule them all. Paranoia will set in and show that it only takes one person on the inside to destroy everything too. Self-interest doesn’t discriminate. Those who practice its isolating principles do.
It becomes hope versus despair—empathy versus revenge. I use empathy instead of forgiveness since there’s surely a lot that Red Crow shouldn’t forgive amidst the chaos. Traylor isn’t trying to get anyone to do so either. He knows the stakes and is quick to be the one to remove the head of anyone who risks bringing this plague inside their borders. Where he and Joseph see the way forward is not succumbing to the same violent tendencies that caused their people such suffering, however, Lysol is ready to usurp Earth’s cleanse as his own. He’s willing to sacrifice innocent lives because he doesn’t believe these white townies actually are innocent. To him their hate is in their blood, biding time until they can flip the tables again.
Expect tons of that liquid to be spilled as a result. Barnaby isn’t one to shy away from dropping graphic carnage down upon his social commentary and certainly not afraid of taboo with depictions of both a mother eating her newborn and castration by zombie. Add Traylor’s father (Stonehorse Lone Goeman‘s Gisigu) wielding a samurai sword and his deputy (Brandon Oakes‘ Bumper) never leaving home without his chainsaw and the body count piles up fast. As with any war, however, casualties will inevitably occur on both sides. People who deserve to die will meet their end and those desperate to redeem themselves will get their chance. Our future is ultimately only as good as those we left behind. We can only pray they do better than we did.
courtesy of Shudder