It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.
I’m gonna be totally honest here. I never got into Z Nation. I’m sure it’s better than I thought, but unless I get a very wild hair up my ass, I’m probably not going to sit down and binge sixty-nine episodes at this point. Add to this that both Z Nation and its new prequel series, Black Summer, are produced by The Asylum and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, even though Black Summer is not a comedy.
However, in the spirit of the season, I decided to sit down and check out the first two episodes and decide at that point whether I’d devote more Easter Zombie Movie Marathon time to it.
And since I’m still being totally honest here, these first two episodes are pretty damn solid.
The main story picks up about six weeks after the zombie apocalypse has kicked off and follows Rose (Jaime King) as she tries to get across town to find her daughter, who has been taken to a stadium serving as an evacuation center. And if the action in these first two episodes are any indication, Rose is probably the only character we can count on to survive the full eight episodes. I’m sure some will, but there’s no telling who will make it and who will die horribly and instantly turn into a frothing, snarling, sprinting zombie.
Episode 1, “Human Flow” introduces to our cast of characters, all of whom are desperately trying to reach sanctuary. The characterizations are effectively done in short-hand. There are virtually no long conversations (not counting the final one between Rose and her infected husband), and the show is shot and edited in a way to amp up the tension and action. There is very little down time here and it helps make what could have been another boring clichéd slog through the opening days of a zombie outbreak into something that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.
Our cast is split into two groups, Rose, Lance (Kelsey Flower), Ryan (Mustafa Alabssi), and Spears (Justin Chu Cary) – although Spears has a secret and is the most interesting character right out of the gate – who are traveling on foot, while Barbara (Gwynyth Walsh), William (Sal Velez, Jr.), and Sun (Christine Lee) barely avoid a carjacking and take off on their own in a stolen car.
Episode 2, “Drive” is where things really start to take off. In fact, Stephen King just plugged the show, calling it “Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone” and he couldn’t be more right. While there are zombies running around, this episode mostly sticks to Barbara’s group as they try to find the way to the stadium without getting carjacked by desperate survivors or highjacked by the driver of a mysterious black truck who needs their gas.
The end of their chase is violent and deadly, with the survivors quickly banding together to barricade themselves into an abandoned diner.
The filming style is smooth, mostly hand-held, and frenetic. The stories are carved up into small chapters, each with its own title, which also helps to keep everything moving. This isn’t The Walking Dead with its ton of dialogue and moral wrangling. Black Summer is a bullet that isn’t interested in whether you keep up or not. I really don’t see the lack of character development over the first two episodes as a hinderance, either. These are characters who have only been together for hours and most of them are probably going to die.
Black Summer isn’t about the emotional impact of watching someone you’ve grown to like or love suddenly turn into a monster. It’s about the visceral impact of being in an accident with strangers and suddenly you all have to get the fuck out of Dodge as quickly as possible. I’m sure the adrenaline rush of these first two episodes won’t be maintained over all eight, but that should make the panting, exhausted quiet moments to come all the more interesting.