Human Flow – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Drive – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Summer School – | Review Score – 4/5
Alone – | Review Score – 3/5
Diner – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Heist – | Review Score – 3.5/5
The Tunnel – | Review Score – 3/5
The Stadium – | Review Score – 4/5
Zombies are one trope that never seems to grow old. From Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead through to 28 Days Later and Kingdom, zombies are a cultural mainstay and seem unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Acting as a prequel to the Z-Nation series, Black Summer is an interesting take on the downfall of humanity, sticking much closer to the days of humanity’s downfall rather than the post apocalyptic wasteland depicted in so many other shows. Despite some strange stylistic choices and some questionable character logic, Black Summer maintains a consistent danger throughout, with intelligent, fast zombies and an extremely tense atmosphere gripping most of the season.
The first episode really sets the scene for what follows. After a short prologue featuring a woman named Rose losing her daughter amid the chaos of an infected person, the ensuing 40 minute episode is broken up into different stories, each one showing a different survivor working toward surviving in this area. In a way this format feels very similar to the original World War Z novel, jumping between characters and cutting off their respective story before jumping to the next. The first half of the season acts as a way of introducing us to the characters, with three parallel stories running through the series until near the end where everyone converges together to travel to the sanctuary of a stadium and hopefully find Rose’s daughter.
Given how acclimatized we’ve come to this genre, Black Summer takes a very bold approach and depicts a world where no one knows quite how to handle the living dead. At times, it does seem a little far-fetched, with characters banging drums and making a lot of noise near the infected, but other times it does work well. As we know, destroying the brain tends to put the undead down for good but this seems unknown to these survivors; skirmishes with the infected tends to result in a flurry of bullets to the chest and an inevitable chase sequence when this doesn’t work. During the final climactic fight, there is a much more conscious effort from those actually battle-hardened though, with more than a few headshots flying in.
Stylistically, Black Summer tries to be different and this really acts as a bit of a double-edged sword. The reliance on handheld cameras means a lot of the scenes feel very shaky and haphazard by design, making it difficult to really gauge what’s going on. When characters are running, this is especially evident and this may well make or break your experience with this. There’s a lot of long pauses, reliance on silence and audio design too and this is certainly to thank for the tense atmosphere running through the series.
Each episode is broken up into chapters too, with the first episode depicting different characters and the rest showing each individual scene with a bite of text. During some of the tense segments this doesn’t work very well, alleviating tension at the worst times as the scene fades to black and slowly switches in the middle of a fight.
Black Summer won’t be for everyone. Despite acting as a prequel to Z-Nation, the tone is much more aligned to the first season’s seriousness than the comedic value of the subsequent seasons after that. The ragtag group of survivors trope is still apparent here but the unpredictable nature of who survives and the lack of a distinct protagonist for much of the run time does help add a lot of tension to this one too.
Although this is a story we’ve seen multiple times, Black Summer’s short episode length and season run-time make it a decent little series to watch. It’s not perfect, but it is better than Fear The Walking Dead’s first season, depicting a slow breakdown of society and doing well to keep the tension going throughout. It won’t be for everyone and those expecting a groundbreaking story or unique slant on this genre will be left wanting but if you can go in with an open mind, there’s just enough here to make for an enjoyable zombie story.