As you do when you don’t know what to watch next, I was scrolling through Netflix, watching various previews that appear when you hover over a programme. I was scrolling for a while; I couldn’t decide what I wanted to watch, and nothing caught my eye. That was until I found Black Summer. The preview showed some sort of zombie-related thriller and it looked really good.
And so I thought, okay, I’ll give it a go. It’s a Netflix original, and I’d seen nothing about it anywhere, so I didn’t know what to expect, except zombies. I know I love zombies – The Walking Dead, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead… I love them all. Yet, even with my love of zombies, I couldn’t have prepared myself for just how much I would love Black Summer.
It’s unconventional in its episodes – theres 8 of them, which range from 20 minutes to 45 minutes in length. Each episode is split into shorter sections, each preceded by a sub-title, e.g. ‘Power’ or ‘Decoy’ which gives you a hint of what’s to come. It means the action is stopped and started, which I didn’t like at first, but by the end you really buy into it. There’s multiple groups and individuals being followed throughout the story and these chapters change perspectives so we see what’s happening to each of the characters, with a title to give each scene it’s own spotlight.
The narrative of Black Summer is quite simple. A zombie outbreak befalls America. Survivors are being taken to the Stadium, to await help. Most people aren’t lucky enough to be part of the initial evacuation to the stadium and so must make their own way there, through a number of different routes. And so ensues a truly thrilling spectacle, each ‘chapter’ often presented in one continuous shot following the characters through a plethora of action-packed scenes, leaving you no time to breathe. The camera is all hand-held and shaky, so you really feel like you are there, part of the zombie apocalypse.
The zombies in Black Summer are the worst kind – sprinting, ravenous, strong undead who are, to put it lightly, completely terrifying. These arent any Walking Dead walkers who stagger along slowly and are easily killed, and only a threat in numbers. Just one of these zombies is a significant challenge for a character to overcome. It all adds to the peril – there’s no outrunning them, they’re very difficult to kill, and there’s a lot more of them than there are of the living… so the odds aren’t in the characters’ favour.
We learn very little about the characters, as Black Summer is very much a show-not-tell programme. We learn just enough to care about them and really root for them to survive, but long scenes of conversation and relaxation are few to non-existent, prioritising captivating action-packed and thrilling scenes. If you think everything is finally okay… chances are they’re not. After a couple of episodes you know better than to think the characters are safe at any time; the writers are amazing, but you’ll have trust issues by the end…
The individual stories are told ingeniously. You’ll see a scene from one characters perspective, then the next ‘chapter’ will show a different characters perspective of the same scene. If two characters link up, it’ll show both of their individual stories before showing the wider context. It’s original, and it’s brilliant, and brings so much excitement to the zombie apocalypse premise that sets it apart from other shows.
Writing this review, I’m reminiscing about the sheer number of exciting scenarios, settings and individual narratives that Black Summer takes us through. Fighting through suburbs, a high school, a techno-brothel (you’ll understand when you watch it) and the perilous ‘downtown’, this is a zombie show full of drama and thrilling adventures. We see individual characters running for their lives, groups sneaking around, and epic scenes.
Much to my delight, Black Summer doesn’t shy away from killing major characters. You’ll have favourites and all of a sudden one of them will die and you’re like noooo! You’ll have no time to grieve however, as the one shot camera will move on and the next action packed sequence will ensue; although manic, it’s just the right amount of mania, with it all fantastically tied together by really good storytelling.
If you want a zombie-fueled thrill ride that is full of surprises, Black Summer is for you. It’s a quick series that packs a serious punch and when it’s over, will leave you begging for more.