Netflix’s Black Summer Season 1 Review
I wasn’t looking for another zombie apocalypse series but Netflix’s Black Summer is a decent diversion. Set in the early weeks of a zombie outbreak, a group of refugees make their way out of the suburbs towards the stadium in downtown where the military will transport them to safety. Rose, one of the main characters, is hoping to reunite with her daughter at the stadium. Anyone who dies becomes a zombie. The undead are pretty scary because they run fast like in 28 Days later.
Black Summer’s focus is on telling small situational survival stories that interlink together. Most of the time, the simpler the story the better the episode. The tone is serious and suspenseful. There’s no off-beat humor like in Z-Nation. Primarily shot with a single hand-held camera, the realistic look is a good fit for Black Summer. The camera perspective can make the viewer feel like they are right there in the action and when a zombie gets dangerously close, the narrow escapes are that much more intense.
Black Summer does not wrestle with the moral dilemmas one faces in the zombie outbreak. Characters are defined by their quick-thinking actions rather than a deep examination of the ethical choices to be made. The characters’ backstories are also not a priority. We first meet “Spears” in handcuffs. The crime he may have committed is not depicted. What we do see is that he’s dangerous to those that pose a threat to his survival. In the outbreak, his survival instincts make for a strong asset to the group.
Black Summer needs more than zombie scares in order for me to be emotionally invested. The writing could be improved by charting the progression of key characters. It’s more satisfying to see a character gradually grow through their experiences in a logical manner. An exception is that Lance is a consistently written character. He’s out of his element in the outbreak and that never really changes. The main characters are portrayed by relatively unknown yet competent actors. Jamie King, who plays Rose, is very good at conveying her character’s heightens emotions through her facial expressions.
The dialogue is kept to a minimum. Sun, a Korean woman, does not speak English. And Ryan is deaf, he’s played by a real-life deaf actor. We get to see how difficulties in communicating play out in life or death situations. Inter-titles are inserted in between scenes, perhaps as a nod to silent era films. But it’s mostly because Black Summer is light on exposition, so there’s a need to provide added context at times. Even with this narrative device, there are gaps in the storytelling where the audience must work out the missing details themselves. Some viewers might find this to be frustrating at times.
For a season consisting of 8 episodes, Black Summers is a quick binge-watch in between your favorite shows. While this series doesn’t reinvent the genre, Black Summer offers it’s own take on realistic survival horror. Viewers will appreciate that the zombies are a focal point. But there should also be other compelling elements layered into the survival stories. Black Summer would benefit from mapping out the character progression. The criticisms are fixable in a second season.