Just when you thought zombies could no longer scare you, “Black Summer” appeared.
Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone. No long, difficult discussions. No endless ‘flashbacks’. Dialogue is miserable. Mostly shot with a handheld camera, very fluid. Series producers can learn a lot from “Black Summer”, wrote Stephen King’s mini-review on social media.
After dying slowly but surely until the end of season nine of “The Walking Dead”, “Black Summer” brings the dead back to life and at the same time they extending it.
Eight episodes lasting 20 to 45 minutes, without frame, subplot, and excess character. Economical, effective and concrete.
The camera has a narrative feature and tells the story on the go.
The subplots with their respective characters, however, satisfactorily merge into one, naturally, not artificially intertwining their paths after being presented individually in scenes viewed from multiple perspectives. The characterization is indirect, incidentally, though Rose (Jaime King; “Sin City”) serves as an emotional anchor for the viewer as she tries to find her separated daughter and to get from point “A” to point “B” as quickly as possible.
We get to know the characters as much as they do to each other in these circumstances, on a drip, enough to create some kind of confidence that can easily grow into mistrust among strangers, which they really are.
Confidence builds on the fly and disappears if the situation dictates, groups are formed and split apart from within the zombie apocalypse world where “everything falls apart” and humans are “left to fend for themselves”.
“We have to be good people? Nothing else matters,” one character muses. Confirmation of what was written earlier comes in the fifth one, called “Diner”. Five protagonists squirm in one restaurant. Outside are two devious zombies. They are fast and can’t escape from them.
Tensions rise, with them anxiety as three of the five come up with the idea to throwing one of the remaining of two out for zombie dinner to grab the opportunity to escape.
And tensions are everywhere in the series. How to survive the zombie apocalypse and escape from zombies? Almost the entire fourth episode is devoted to Lance (Kelsey Flower) who trying to stay one step ahead of the zombie.
In this episode, it is evident how important (handheld) the camera is to “Black Summer” and how each scene is choreographically elaborated, yet seemingly spontaneous and instinctive, given the “realistically” long, continuous, almost quasi-documentary footage and guerrilla. “low budget” expression of the series.
It’s just the naked, raw directing that sets “Black Summer” apart from other series on the same subject. What this looks like in practic?.
The camera captures the characters’ experience by following them in their footsteps as they run through deserted streets, pass through abandoned houses or crawl through ventilation pipes. When one of the zombies hooks up to windshield, he is also seen by a close-up audience.
The zombies are essentially just actors with white-out eyes and blood on their face running around screaming. There are no real monster make-up. Just a lot of crazy people screaming, which does not make for a terribly compelling threat, however dangerous they may be.
Stripping zombies and their genre to (rotten) bone. Director and co-creator John Hyams succeeded in doing so in the first season, so let’s rejoice that he’ll be able to stop in time before “Black Summer” looks like a sequel and becomes “The Walking Dead” himself. The soapbox of the living dead!