Netflix Now: Black Summer (2019) - Reviewed

John Hyams, renowned for his arthouse action deconstruction Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, returns to the zombie genre with Z Nation showrunner Karl Schaefer to deliver Black Summer, a Netflix original series that acts as a tonally unique prequel to the parody laced Z Nation on Syfy.  Taking place during the first weeks of the apocalypse, Summer abandons any sense of humor and focuses on the death of humanity.  Using single handheld cameras, a plethora oof jaw dropping extended single takes, and a no holds barred approach to who lives and dies, this is one of the best new offerings of the year.

As the dead begin to rise and feast upon the living, various survivors struggle to reach a mythic stadium where the promise of sanctuary awaits.  One of the things that immediately grabs the viewer is the sense of urgency.  This is the end of the world in progress, where untrained civilians gun down their allies and a single zombie can potential threaten an entire community.  Each of the episodes’ runtime varies from 20 minutes to 45 minutes and each episode is spliced in several mini-chapters, each of which is preceded by an ominous title card.  What follows is eight vignettes that ultimately bring a group of characters together, however, this is where everything diverts.  The common tropes of the genre are endlessly subverted.  Head shots are not guaranteed, people are, more often than not decent, and no one is safe.  One of the more gripping aspects is the dialogue.  The things that desperation force normally stable minds to do are terrifying, degrading, and on occasion, miraculous and Black Summer never turns away from either.  

The budget shows around the edges if one looks closely, however, everything is masked under Yaron Levy and Spiro Grant’s award worthy cinematography.  This is arguably some of the best camerawork ever done for the small screen, with the episode Alone being the standout.  This is essentially a prolonged chase sequence, that is enhanced by obtrusive angles and long takes, a hallmark echoed throughout the series, culminating in one of the most insane finales ever filmed.  

Available now on Netflix, Black Summer is the epitome of the zombie apocalypse genre.  Eschewing any sense of comfort, this is the undead show you've been waiting for.  Trauma, violence, death, victimization, and helplessness are explored, but not dwelled on.  Goodness, humanity, morality, and hope are ethereal concepts on the fringe as a revolving list of characters each experience their own slice of hell of on Earth. The technical aspects alone skyrocket this series above the usual Netflix fare; however, the talented crew and amazing cast only enhance Hyams and Schaefer's blood drenched scream into the void.  Much like Romero's masterwork, this a product of its time, a not so twisted reflection of a country literally tearing itself apart. 

--Kyle Jonathan