Produced by The Asylum, Black Summer is a Netflix original series that acts as a companion prequel to SyFy’s now-cancelled Z Nation. Fans of Z Nation will recognize the term “Black Summer” as a series reference that alludes to an extreme drought that gradually lead to the zombie apocalypse.
So unlike Z Nation — which begins well into a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies — this series takes it right from the top.
Black Summer followers survivors of a cataclysmic event who contend with zombies — and each other — to reach a military evacuation site. Jamie King (Sin City) stars as a mother, torn from her daughter, who embarks upon a harrowing journey, stopping at nothing to find her. Thrust alongside a small group of American refugees, she must brave a hostile new world and make brutal decisions during the most deadly summer of a zombie apocalypse.
Karl Schaefer and John Hyams serve as creators, executive producers, and co-showrunners.
Tonally, Black Summer is far more somber and tense than Z Nation, opting for serious scares and hand-wrenching tension over elaborate subplots and zombie babies. This new world is harsh, dark, and deeply cynical.
From a technical standpoint, it’s quite impressive. The musical score is very limited and used more to ease in to scene transitions rather than provide background music. Episodes regularly utilize long tracking shots — and are quite economical with the cuts — adding to the sense of realism. As a viewer, you’re right there with the survivors, following them through their trauma.
The result is pretty intense.
Admittedly, it’s easy to get burnt out on zombie media. We see a lot of it. The Walking Dead just announced yet another spin-off, Zombieland 2 is on the horizon, hell, even Jim Jarmusch is getting into the grave with zombies.
In a time when global tensions are rising, it seems appropriate to have this hyper-realistic cinematic-style exploration of how we react to a catastrophic event, both on an individual and greater scale. With themes of loss, humanity, and the loss of humanity, Black Summer has quite a bit to unpack.
In Black Summer, we pick up just as society collapses. Homes are evacuated and families are torn apart. Not everyone is a helpful survivor in it for the team; strangers will turn on (or turn their backs on) each other at a moment’s notice. When panic sets in, order is lost, and chaos reigns.
The threat seems very real. Practical weapons are scarce in suburbia, and these zombies are hyper-focused berserkers – they’re actually very difficult to kill, and even harder to run away from.
It’s a nice reminder of how genuinely intense the zombie subgenre can be when it’s done right. The series is less The Walking Dead and more 28 Days Later; it’s really pushing the straight-horror side of the zombie apocalypse with fast, focused, and ferocious zombies.
Whichever side of the “fast vs slow zombies” argument you land on, you have to admit that it really is a necessity for this series to work. Most of the conflicts are set with the understanding that these things are coming for you, and they will find you. Entire episodes are spent with characters that are physically trapped by, evading, or otherwise trying to escape these freakishly fast zombies.
There’s an episode based around one lone character on the run from one determined undead. It features approximately 7 lines of dialogue in 20 minutes, most only 1-3 words long. It’s a powerful episode — with an emotional performance from Kelsey Flower — that brilliantly utilizes the storytelling tool of a full-speed zombie to communicate fear, loneliness, and the dangers of isolation in a post-civilized world.
Another episode follows a small group of survivors in a minivan as they try and avoid these unwavering undead and outmaneuver a predatory black truck full of ne’er-do-well strangers.
Through each episode, the action clips along at a relentless pace.
After watching the first set of episodes, what struck me the most was how well they were constructed. I genuinely felt tense, surprised, shocked, and anxious as I was sucked in to the world of the show. The tightly choreographed long tracking shots really stand out as a strong point as they grip you in the action and carry you through the drama.
It’s an impressively well-made series that demonstrates how zombie media can still have some serious bite.
Has Black Summer reinvented the zombie subgenre? No. Is it the new The Walking Dead? Probably not – nothing can stop that train. But it is a legitimately entertaining series that should be caught by any zombie fan. It’s got enough thrills and kills to satisfy anyone who’s on the hunt for fresh meat — and still keeps some brains on the menu.
Black Summer arrives on Netflix on April 11, 2019.