GORE IN THE STORE
BLACK SUMMER ****
Starring Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee, Bobby Naderi. Horror, US.
Now streaming on Netflix
Two years ago, Black Summer made its unheralded debut on Netflix. No major advertising campaign or advance hype accompanied its release. However, in the weeks after, word of mouth travelled fast about the zombie series with the likes of Stephen King taking to Twitter to exclaim “Existential Hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone.” Its lean eight episode run proved this right from the start. Announcing itself with an air raid warning the viewer was immediately plunged headlong into the middle of an apparent zombie outbreak with no explanation or backstory. This lack of exposition was replaced with breakneck, dread filled storytelling as we were introduced to a number of characters trying to escape an apocalyptic situation by any means necessary. The directing, shared by John Hyams and Abram Cox, followed these characters through long smooth single takes that served to heighten the descent into savage chaos and violence.
It was the ideal example of binge watching. Its lean running time and whipcrack pacing leading the viewer to hit the next episode button at the end of each instalment. That such a series could go by so quickly only seems to have made the wait for the second series seem so long. Thankfully the wait is now over and more than worth it with a follow up that doubles down on its fatalistic storytelling and near nihilistic approach where the survivors are even more of a threat than the ravenous zombies who rush out of nowhere to tear them apart.
An unspecified amount of time has passed between these two series. Society has completely collapsed and the remaining survivors from the previous series scrabble to survive, avoiding contact with strangers as much as possible. Adding to this is the unwelcome freezing winter, just another harsh factor as the survivors look for a place to rest and stay warm. On top of this are a small number of new characters, most notably Ray, a character with a possible police or military background, who leads a heavily armed militia looking for scraps to survive on. Supplies are being dropped off across the wilderness by a plane leading a number of characters battling each other whatever the cost.
If you have yet to experience Black Summer this may sound like a rehash of many other zombie sagas, most notably THE WALKING DEAD. Adding to the lack of explanation of the outbreak is the fact that there really is not anything we have not seen before in regard to its zombies. Instead, what we get is a look at human nature at its most desperate conveyed in an utterly riveting fashion. Glimpses of humanity and kindness are thin on the ground but there are a number of lyrical scenes where characters are forced into reckoning with themselves as well as each other. Leading actress Jaime King as Rose is a much harder edged character this time around as she commits jaw dropping acts of violence in the name of protecting her daughter Anna. The effects of such a hellish existence and the effects on the young girl are studied in haunting and troubling fashion as the season progresses whilst the grind of survival experienced by ex-soldier Spears is also examined in a emotional style that also lingers hauntingly.
This character work and its concise storytelling elevate BLACK SUMMER above the likes of THE WALKING DEAD, a series that increasingly stumbles over itself and bogs itself down. At times this seems, particularly in this second season, to have more in common with Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD with its blasted-out landscape and roaming bunches of survivors for whom violence is now just a sad and essential fact of life. Among all the doom and gloom there are frequent bursts of action and excitement that will force you into watching the next episode right away. If there is a season 3, which seems highly likely after the ending here, the wait, however long, will be a lengthy one.