The new Canadian thriller “Blood Quantum” was supposed to hit theatres on March 27, 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘Blood Quantum’ an eerily timely film on ‘what a pandemic does to people’

TORONTO — Picture it: A plague has broken out, resulting in border closures, xenophobia, paranoia and denial of facts.

Only in this case it’s a zombie outbreak, and it’s infecting non-Indigenous people outside a fictional First Nations reserve that’s immune to the virus.

Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby says he didn’t intend on making a timely pandemic movie when he wrote and directed that very scenario in the new Canadian thriller “Blood Quantum.”

The film was supposed to hit theatres this Friday, but in an eerie twist of fate, its theatrical release is now postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Rather, Barnaby says he was reflecting on how “we’ve seen all of this play out before,” with outbreaks including the influenza epidemic of 1918-19.

“It was more about the societal effect of what a pandemic does to people — it makes them paranoid, it makes them xenophobic,” Barnaby said in a recent phone interview from his Montreal home.

“It’s like basically what you’re looking at now — everybody’s closing their borders, everybody is becoming fearful and paranoid of each other. The play there in ‘Blood Quantum’ in particular was that native people had the foreknowledge that non-natives were capable of extreme acts of destruction, and interior debate in the community became, ‘Should we help these non-natives or defend ourselves?’”

The story — which stars Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon and Olivia Scriven — is also a look at the dynamic of First Nations people within the confines of post-colonial society, Barnaby added.

“You’re dealing in this situation where you’re living in a culture that has been actively oppressing you, oftentimes violently. So you’re asking yourself, as this post-colonial native person, ‘How much do I engage in this culture? How much do I assimilate?’”

“Blood Quantum” is set on an isolated Mi’gmaq reserve called Red Crow, which becomes inundated with outsiders looking for refuge within the immune Indigenous community during the zombie outbreak.

Barnaby, whose previous projects include 2013’s “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” said he wrote the film about 13 years ago.

He was inspired by his childhood memories of watching horror films as well as Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary “Incident at Restigouche,” about the 1981 armed Quebec Provincial Police raid on the Restigouche Reserve.

At one point in “Blood Quantum,” the Indigenous community sets up blockades to keep the infected away. Such imagery is reminiscent of another part of current Canadian culture: blockades over oil and gas pipelines.

Obviously Barnaby could not have foreseen “Blood Quantum” becoming a commentary on current society, and he finds the parallels “surreal and stranger than fiction.”

But Barnaby is starting to see his film as “almost like a prophecy” and a look at how history repeats itself.

“I don’t think it’s just going to be read and interpreted on the grounds of just being a zombie film, it was never meant to be that anyway,” he said.

Rather, his audience will see parallels between his film “and people’s reactions to this virus and how it’s brought out basically the worst of humanity, and how it’s brought into release the difference between rich people and the proletariat,” he added.

Barnaby said he’s still banking on a theatrical release for “Blood Quantum” before it goes to video-on-demand platforms, so it could be a while before audiences get to see it beyond its premiere at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

But he also feels that timely films can be helpful and informative for audiences while they’re experiencing that very scenario.

“The cornerstone of any really good horror story is the ability to experience it within the safety of your living room or theatre. But what happens when the horror on screen is sitting right beside you coughing into its sleeve?” Barnaby said.

“It cuts a little close to the bone. But that’s typically what all my films have done. And that’s what I’ve always wanted them to do.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2020.

CoronavirusEntertainment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Even in ‘worst-case scenario,’ Westerner Park can now operate until early 2021, says CEO

Mike Olesen is grateful for $2 million from the City of Red Deer

Dental services for developmentally disabled shuttered in Red Deer

Marwayne Dental Clinic closes to Red Deer and central Alberta patients

Red Deer building permits on the rise

Building permit applications returned to their seasonal average after slowing in May,… Continue reading

Three patients dead: Edmonton hospital declares full COVID-19 outbreak

EDMONTON — A hospital in Edmonton is no longer admitting patients due… Continue reading

CMHC reports annual pace of housing starts in Canada increased in June

OTTAWA — Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says the annual pace of… Continue reading

Military helicopter training near Rocky Mountain House this weekend

Three CH-146 Griffon helicopters will be training in central Alberta over the… Continue reading

Fun and Flowers: Rimbey and Area Love My Garden Tour this July

“Every garden is as unique as the gardener who created them.”

Opinion: Restart our economic engine by supporting oil and gas

“The country isn’t going to recover unless the oil and gas sector… Continue reading

Opinion: COVID costs need restraining

Bill Morneau muttered it best himself on Wednesday as he tabled documents… Continue reading

UPDATE: Alberta RCMP Major Crimes Unit investigating suspicious death in Leduc

Death of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19, ruled a homicide; RCMP seek video of house party altercation.

Fateful meeting has Vancouver’s Stuart Macdonald on Korn Ferry Tour

Stuart Macdonald wasn’t quite sure what Golf Canada’s Derek Ingram wanted to… Continue reading

Oprah, Lionsgate to help adapt The 1619 Project for film, TV

Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate are partnering with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones… Continue reading

Most Read