Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee, Sal Velez Jr., Kelsey Flower
Karl Schaefer, John Hyams
In the dark, early days of a zombie apocalypse, complete strangers band together to find the strength they need to survive and get back to loved ones.
Black Summer is binge-worthy; and honestly, that’s the only way you should digest this show. As the prequel to Z Nation, Black Summer is fast-paced and fear-provoking, featuring character descriptions with only the bare necessities. Because trust is fragile during the apocalypse, our attachment to these characters is just as easily broken, especially when a bitten comrade turns into a zombie, eager to eat you in that cramped air vent you’re wriggling through. Karl Schaefer, creator of Z Nation, and John Hyams, co-producer on Z Nation, must have decided that this component of limited character attachment would separate this series from the countless others competing for our attention. Let’s see why it works.
The series follows several characters whose story lines converge into one pursuit: stay alive long enough to get to your loved ones who may—or may not—still be alive. Rose (Jaime King), forced from her daughter Anna, will become whatever she needs to become to survive; Kyungson (Christine Lee), a daughter torn from her mother, attempts to help anyone along the way; William (Sal Velez Jr.), a working man, remains confident that his family is waiting for him; and Spears (Justin Chu Cary), an anonymity to everyone he encounters, seeks the safest refuge from this apocalypse. We meet more survivors along the way, but all are forced to reject each other at some point to increase their own chances of staying alive.
One of the many gratifying ingredients of Black Summer is how quickly dying humans become zombies. Seconds after their last breath, the dead gasps, spit up blood, spring up, and charge after the living. Although this is a pleasure to witness, it reawakens the question of any zombie film: Why are most survivors confident that their loved ones are still alive somewhere, especially after seeing how quickly the world is deteriorating? I guess you must never stop finding a reason to stay alive. You must hold onto any possibility, no matter how slim it is.
Foreshadowing stands as another delightful element. When you witness a zombie attack or a human sacrifice, you are often shown the same incident, but from a different perspective. This perspective infuses the story with additions or reductions to the human groupings. Creators John Hyams and Karl Schaefer have taken a risk doing this, which is something not often done in film nowadays—and even less often—done correctly. But they both have previous experience with this storytelling format, being attached to projects such as Monk and The Dead Zone. Other writers for Black Summer include Delondra Williams (Z Nation, Rise of the Zombies), Craig Engler (Z Nation, Rage of the Yeti), D.S. Schaefer (Z Nation), and Abram Cox, who also directs three episodes.
Additionally, the handheld camera work is first-class. Because subjects move around often in Black Summer, cinematographers use the RED Helium 8k camera. I particularly appreciate its crispiness as it follows a woman that dies, turns into a zombie, and initiates her prowl of people on sidewalks and in homes. At times, this cinematography resembles the high action scenes of fellow Netflix show Shooter. This similarity stems from both shows’ shared cinematographer Yaron Levy, who worked with co-creator John Hyams previously on Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. Spiro Grant also serves as cinematographer. And though IMDB shows this as his first cinematography position, he has worked on major projects such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Elysium.
Ironically for me, the whole show seems like an insane game of elementary school manhunt—but with deadly consequences. With these running zombies, you have no time to wait around. Also, you have mere seconds to decide whether you trust someone or not. The person before you could use you as bait while she escapes the lingering zombies, or she could welcome you to her group, believing the old adage of “strength in numbers.”
With all of this hot fire in Black Summer, I’ve still read some pretty opposing reviews. Some praise it as distinctive; others criticize it as lackluster. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is almost level at 59%. Nonetheless, the commonality among 99% of the people who watch this show is that they finish it, which reveals its potential to keep you in your seat. So, let me know what you think about the show after you watch it.
Black Summer Brings the Binge!
Black Summer is binge-worthy; and honestly, that’s the only way you should digest this show.