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 (2020)

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 (2015)

69%

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

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