I love the zombie subgenre. I love how versatile it is, how it can be used for cultural criticism, to tackle the immigration debate (In the Flesh), to comment on politics in the past (Night of the Living Dead) or satirize the politics of the present (BrainDead) or suburbia (Santa Clarita Diet). I love how it can be used for comedy (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland), to tell a love story (Warm Bodies), or as the backdrop to an apocalyptic soap opera (The Walking Dead).
But what I love about Netflix’s Black Summer is that it is refreshingly none-of-the-above. It’s just straight-up, kick-you-in-the-mouth zombie horror, and it is metal AF. The zombies in Black Summer are not a slow-moving nuisance, easily dispatched with a spike or a bullet through the head. They’re not rotting, lumbering, and mindless creatures that roam in packs. They’re fast-moving, feral monsters that chase down their victims and shred them alive. There’s also no delay between death and zombification; if someone dies in a crowded room, half that room will be dead and/or infected within minutes. They’re monsters who terrorize the living, and death seems to give them the strength of a human amped up on adrenaline and rabies. It’s the kind of zombie virus that can wipe out 95 percent of the entire world’s population in one summer.
Black Summer is set about a six weeks after a zombie outbreak, which has already decimated cities. The military is still ostensibly in charge, but only to the extent that it’s dropping bombs on cities in a futile effort to contain the spread. A military caravan is picking up survivors and allegedly transporting them to a stadium, where they can be airlifted out to safer areas. However, several survivors — for various reasons — miss the caravan or are not allowed on because they don’t have the proper papers or they exhibit signs of infection. These survivors have to get themselves about ten miles through the city to get to the stadium. Not all of them will make it (in fact, most will not).
The ostensible lead in Black Summer is Rose, who is separated from her daughter and has to get to the stadium to reunite with her. Rose is played by Jaime King, but she looks so (intentionally) busted in the series that I didn’t realize it was her until the third episode.
The focus is on nine or ten characters, who are separated, or who merge together, and who fight together and against each other, because in addition to the zombies, they also have to contend with other survivors struggling over limited resources (guns, gasoline) to make it to the stadium, including — for instance — a terrifying group of kids who have taken over a school. But there aren’t really any “heroics” in Black Summer, or bad-ass zombie-killing machines. It’s not that show. The characters spend most of their time running for their damn lives or hiding (these zombies, by the way, are much smarter than most, but they still can’t seem to figure out how to open a goddamn door, their only apparent Achilles’ heel).
Black Summer is filmed with handheld cameras on what is probably a limited budget, and nearly every minute of the eight episodes (which range from 25 minutes to 45 minutes) feels like absolute chaos. It’s unofficially a prequel to Z Nation (which I actually haven’t seen), which I think just means that the same production company (Asylum) and showrunners (Karl Schaefer, John Hyams) behind Z Nation made another zombie series centered around completely different characters and set in a time before the events of Z Nation. Thematically, it also ostensibly covers the American refugee crisis, in the sense that the characters are abandoned by the American military and left to fend for themselves in an environment completely hostile toward them. Mostly, however, Black Summer is just as Stephen King describes it: An existential hell.
BLACK SUMMER (Netflix): Just when you think there's no more scare left in zombies, THIS comes along. Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone.— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 15, 2019
Header Image Source: Netflix