Black Summer, created by Karl Schaefer and John Hyams for Netflix, follows several different people in what seems to be a slightly fresh apocalyptic area. We are given a bit of each character’s story until they (unsurprisingly) all connect at different times, forming their own small group. This has been seen plenty of times before, especially in zombie movies and TV shows, but as we’ll see is the case for many of Black Summer‘s characteristics, the show shines because of how well it masters these tropes.
So let’s talk about tropes for just a minute. A lot of non-horror fans, and even some horror fans, will talk negatively about a horror movie that utilizes a lot of tropes. This kind of commentary always bothers me because tropes are what make so many horror movies fun because they add a sense of timelessness to movies and TV shows. This is even more powerful when those tropes are done really well and this is exactly where Black Summer sets itself apart a little bit from other modern zombie stories.
Throughout the show’s eight episodes, we see every trope from every zombie movie of the last decade, but the show’s execution of these tropes is it’s charm. Possibly because the acting among the entire cast is so great, but it might also be thank to the show’s gorgeous cinematography, it’s incredible score, or any number of other impressive qualities. A surprise really given that the show is supposed to be a prequel to the SyFy’s Z Nation (2014-2018). Z Nation is beloved for a lot of reasons but specifically for the comedy and campiness that it delivered. unlike its prequel does not contain an ounce of comedy or camp. The show is very dramatic and deadly serious.
Despite its use of many tropes, Black Summer does set itself apart in a lot of little ways. One of those unique things that the show does is that they show a single-word title card at each scene change, like chapter headings hinting at upcoming moments. Like books, sometimes chapters are short and sometimes they are long, which unfortunately means that those title screens appear almost too regularly, which can become a bit annoying.
The upside is that this allowed the show to be full of scenes that involved one or multiple characters guiding through houses, vehicles, hallways, etc. while being chased by zombies or other survivors. These scenes were sometimes so beautifully elaborate that they seemed to be perfectly choreographed with steps planned out for long one-shot sequences. These scenes were oddly maze-like and incredibly mesmerizing to watch unfold.
On the other hand, the downside to so many characters making their way through suburban labyrinths is that sometimes they moved slowly. Complaints aside, the show’s suspense should not be overshadowed by my critique of the slow moments. The tension is sometimes so palpable that it is very stress-inducing. This is most evident in the show’s fifth episode, “Diner,” where we see a half of the group stuck inside a diner. This episode is the highlight of the series because the filmmakers use it to tell its own small story in the midst of a bigger one. The suspense that this episode creates causes the watcher to constantly be cautious about trusting almost every character on screen. Diner is the perfect mixture of gradual and lively, full of a couple twists and turns.
Some of these tension building scenes were so thrilling, but sadly some were tainted by its poor CGI. We have seen CGI used heavily in zombie films over the last decade and we’ve seen it used well and we’ve seen it used poorly. The CGI isn’t excessive in Black Summer, but when it’s visible it looks a little shoddy. When this would happen, it was especially unfortunate because those moments were usually very powerful and shocking ones, moments that ended long suspenseful sequences, and instead of fully enjoying it, the subpar CGI would slightly pull me out of it.
Overall, Black Summer is satisfying and can give fans of zombie movies and TV shows what they want, and they can even deliver it in a very neat package. The show will unfortunately still suffer from the fact that we’ve seen everything here before too many times. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, it’s just not that memorable. Have you had a chance to binge Black Summer on Netflix? Share your thoughts on this new zombie series on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.