News

5 Groundbreaking Indigenous Horror Movies to Watch Right Now

Indigenous filmmakers from North America, New Zealand, and Australia are putting their mark on a genre that has often utilized their culture but excluded their voice.

by | October 28, 2020 | Comments

Blood Quantum

(Photo by © Shudder / Courtesy Everett Collection)

For decades, the horror genre has fed on Indigenous stories for inspiration like a horde of zombies feasting on the body of a victim. “Ancient Indian burial ground,” anyone?

While there is plenty of Indigenous-themed horror out there – 2017’s Mohawk, Ozploitation classic Dark Age, and Pet Sematary, for example – few have been made by Indigenous filmmakers and told from that perspective. Now, Indigenous creators are exorcizing their demons by reclaiming the narrative and making horror on their own terms.

These filmmakers are using the genre to comment on the effects of colonization (Blood Quantum), imagine ancient worlds (The Dead Lands), question what and who you believe (The Darkside), and represent themselves where they haven’t been represented before (The Dead Can’t Dance). And they’re doing it all as they challenge assumptions about the form of cinema itself (BeDevil).

Below are some of the most inventive horror and mixed-genre films of the last few decades – all made by and featuring Indigenous artists.

About the author: Rhianna Patrick is a Torres Strait Islander media professional with over 20 years experience. She’s worked across news, television, radio, communications, and Indigenous Australian mediaDive deeper on these titles and more in a piece she recently wrote for website IndigenousX. Follow her on Twitter at @RhiannaPatrick.


Blood Quantum (2019)

90%

Written and directed by Jeff Barnaby
Canada
Steaming on Shudder

What is it? A zombie movie with a twist, Blood Quantum centers on an outbreak in which the non-Indigenous locals are turning into the undead and the Indigenous population finds itself immune.

Mi’kmaq director-writer Jeff Barnaby’s second feature is an exploration of indigeneity and the ongoing effects of colonization. The film is set in 1981, which is a reference to the Alanis Obomsawin documentary Incident at Restigouche, about the raids on Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation by Quebec police over salmon fishing rights, an act Barnaby witnessed as a 4-year-old. This film is layered with history like this throughout – including some eerie use of undead fish! – and also features zombie film references and animated interludes.


The Dead Lands (2014)

70%

Directed by Toa Fraser, written by Glenn Standring
New Zealand/UK
Streaming free (with ads) on Tubi, and on Shudder; available to rent or buy on FandangoNOW, Vudu, YouTube Movies, Amazon Prime, and iTunes

What is it? The Dead Lands follows Maori teenager Hongi as he seeks revenge for his slain father in order to bring peace and honor to his tribe.

Although pegged as an action adventure, the level of blood loss pushes this Fresh New Zealand film into the horror realm – and there are plenty of bone crunching battles to keep gore hounds happy. What makes this film unique is that the script was originally written in English and then translated into Maori. The linguist who worked on the translation searched to find ancient words and expressions which might have been used 500-600 years ago, the time in which the film is set – prior to British colonization.


The Darkside (2013)

- -

Directed by Warwick Thornton
Australia
Available to rent or buy on iTunes

What is it? Acclaimed director Warwick Thornton developed The Darkside after a callout seeking first-hand ghost stories from Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Some 150 ghost stories were submitted for The Darkside, and the 13 that were selected were recorded by the filmmakers; three of the original recordings feature in the film, along with 10 more delivered as monologues by Australian actors like Bryan Brown, Claudia Karvan, and legendary Indigenous actor Jack Charles. It’s tough to describe, and more of a mood piece than a conventional genre film, but Thornton’s presentation of believable, everyday creepy tales will leave you unnerved.


Written and directed by Rod Pocowatchit 
United States 
Available to rent or buy on Amazon

What is it? Shaun of the Dead was the inspiration for this zombie comedy about three Comanche men who discover they’re somehow immune to a mysterious plague after their car breaks down.

A journalist by trade, Rod Pocowatchit started making genre films because he wanted to see Indigenous people represented in pop culture. The Dead Can’t Dance sees Pocowatchit apply his Indigenous perspective to a zombie comedy which delivers on the laughs but also on the Indigenous twists for the genre. Despite being obviously low-budget flick, Dead is entertaining, thought-provoking, and speaks to the DIY horror filmmaking tradition.


Bedevil (1993)

- -

Written and directed by Tracey Moffatt
Australia
Available on Ovid (with subscription)

What is it? BeDevil is a trilogy of ghost stories that follows characters having real, remembered, and imagined visions.

This was the first ever feature film by an Australian Aboriginal woman and it’s an experimental feast for all the senses – although can be hard to find. Shot on highly stylized sets and on location – frequently cutting dreamily between both – it’s a mixture of theater, film, and art. The opening notes of the score are not what you expect for a horror film, but the music perfectly sets up the strange and captivating journey on which director Tracey Moffatt takes you.


On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

Disney+ Disney Plus marvel comics GoT 2016 Teen stoner superhero game show MSNBC CBS All Access kong wonder woman FX on Hulu politics HBO Heroines critics Video Games free movies TCA nfl ESPN biopic CMT TV President book psycho transformers Country toy story strong female leads Reality sports The Purge Awards Tour 93rd Oscars action-comedy TV One Valentine's Day WarnerMedia Film ratings X-Men telelvision halloween tv Universal Pictures Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Hallmark Exclusive Video adventure CW Seed Toys LGBT jamie lee curtis elevated horror 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 99% hispanic cats classics Amazon Tomatazos Tubi dramedy Writers Guild of America Cosplay Walt Disney Pictures Mary poppins Sundance Now batman Comic Book Spring TV comics south america aapi kaiju Warner Bros. The Witch Family australia Winners TruTV Dark Horse Comics mutant IFC Films political drama blockbuster Christmas adenture comic books theme song TV movies BAFTA The CW rotten Binge Guide The Walt Disney Company animated HBO Max cancelled TV series spanish Pride Month PBS FXX Fall TV casting new zealand italian Hallmark Christmas movies streaming movies child's play Thanksgiving TCA Winter 2020 2018 king kong heist movie NYCC spider-man Winter TV scene in color travel marvel cinematic universe mob football Showtime Hear Us Out ABC Spectrum Originals Song of Ice and Fire Hulu Image Comics rt archives 90s Opinion Nominations USA DirecTV Television Critics Association Paramount Plus series directors Masterpiece 24 frames composers Academy Awards Disney Channel Super Bowl Disney streaming service Tumblr french BBC Comedy Fox Searchlight teaser indiana jones dceu historical drama romantic comedy sag awards blaxploitation Star Wars satire crossover cinemax American Society of Cinematographers ITV documentaries all-time joker USA Network dogs Apple TV+ fresh 007 international justice league Mary Tyler Moore YouTube Red parents Netflix Christmas movies dc Pet Sematary RT21 Marvel true crime werewolf miniseries movie Universal Biopics aliens king arthur Pacific Islander Shondaland vampires Fantasy TV Land San Diego Comic-Con Reality Competition spy thriller BET Awards See It Skip It Lionsgate Countdown lord of the rings Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Ovation revenge Election Anna Paquin DC streaming service Nat Geo anthology LGBTQ boxing binge live action Captain marvel E3 screenings based on movie Musical Mudbound Marvel Studios DC Universe 1990s witnail Ghostbusters boxoffice ID CNN Summer black comedy dreamworks latino spinoff franchise japanese Sundance TV FX Emmys Funimation prank Film Festival Tarantino A24 worst movies Mary Poppins Returns obituary live event GIFs supernatural toronto Pop TV Tokyo Olympics Pop Comedy Central scary Extras BBC America Star Trek New York Comic Con Black History Month festivals harry potter nature Martial Arts Interview 73rd Emmy Awards IMDb TV Nickelodeon kids tv talk posters name the review Year in Review Cannes worst technology Mystery Spike laika natural history Marvel Television japan cults best die hard Schedule psychological thriller renewed TV shows legend YA TCA 2017 genre comic book movies concert Drama versus suspense canceled TV shows young adult Esquire green book critic resources Best and Worst National Geographic Comics on TV 72 Emmy Awards social media Fox News El Rey IFC Emmy Nominations Character Guide serial killer crime Sony Pictures ABC Signature Neflix Kids & Family comic Amazon Prime ghosts Disney Plus Food Network Apple Oscars venice Baby Yoda VH1 cops SXSW new star wars movies Grammys Marathons MTV movies Epix Music Watching Series Cartoon Network Calendar news debate comic book movie new york WGN zombie Avengers Action Alien mcc Sneak Peek HBO Go unscripted stop motion Paramount Network The Arrangement films Elton John Disney know your critic rotten movies we love feel good TLC thriller Certified Fresh high school trailers Travel Channel science fiction Musicals deadpool docudrama adaptation cartoon monster movies sequel Animation APB Broadway what to watch FOX Amazon Prime Video remakes TV renewals AMC finale BET Adult Swim Paramount women dark Netflix Horror Freeform OWN A&E dragons criterion History Lifetime mission: impossible Chernobyl period drama Discovery Channel video canceled crime thriller The Academy anime 20th Century Fox E! a nightmare on elm street Box Office Premiere Dates Black Mirror PaleyFest Syfy black blockbusters festival sequels olympics PlayStation Lucasfilm comedies james bond crime drama robots TBS AMC Plus stand-up comedy Comic-Con@Home 2021 Holidays rt labs critics edition rom-coms Logo sitcom Instagram Live Rom-Com hollywood Endgame Rocketman Sci-Fi 2020 Pixar DC Comics SDCC war TCM biography rt labs Sundance cooking spain godzilla CBS comiccon basketball First Look romance MCU cars doctor who Polls and Games scorecard christmas movies 21st Century Fox spanish language streaming emmy awards Trivia scary movies Rock popular saw Rocky Classic Film 2019 universal monsters fast and furious slashers ABC Family Britbox Podcast VICE Superheroe golden globe awards NBC razzies TCA Awards First Reviews Photos NBA foreign medical drama Women's History Month reviews golden globes game of thrones nbcuniversal Vudu children's TV talk show Trophy Talk jurassic park vs. Apple TV Plus hist Shudder television Western Legendary Acorn TV hidden camera RT History Columbia Pictures Turner The Walking Dead Lifetime Christmas movies Ellie Kemper zombies Turner Classic Movies OneApp TIFF Superheroes target police drama book adaptation award winner richard e. Grant facebook disaster Trailer dexter 4/20 Creative Arts Emmys quibi Peacock 2017 Stephen King art house mockumentary spider-verse superman Awards GLAAD SundanceTV Red Carpet Bravo twilight Crunchyroll ViacomCBS video on demand pirates of the caribbean cancelled TV shows YouTube zero dark thirty sopranos 2021 71st Emmy Awards docuseries halloween independent documentary 2015 Arrowverse breaking bad Starz royal family singing competition VOD Infographic DGA cancelled slasher chucky gangster space asian-american Holiday Television Academy Brie Larson Set visit Mindy Kaling Wes Anderson TNT Amazon Studios archives BBC One screen actors guild indie reboot diversity 45 hispanic heritage month YouTube Premium Quiz discovery Pirates Crackle cancelled television