Late to the party: Netflix’s ‘Black Summer’ causes the best anxiety ever

I legitimately thought I was over zombies. That was until my partner and I decided to watch a Netflix series that neither of us — two horror and sci-fi geeks — had never seen or heard of. 

I’m a fan of horror, sci-fi (The Alien kind) and psychological thrillers. He’s a fan of sci-fi and video games, most of which usually involve killing monsters, demons and zombies. So, we usually end up finding something to watch that both of us will love. Stumbling upon Netflix’s Black Summer was right up both our alleys — especially since quite a handful of the cast, both main and supporting, provide a bit of bear eye candy.

The series was created by the creators of Z Nation (another popular zombie series that I have yet to watch — because I was seriously over zombies). After a bit of reluctance, I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did. 

We may be a bit late to the party, but after about 175 too many seasons of The Walking Dead (I seriously think I may have stopped watching after season two or three), I was relieved to find out that Black Summer is very different. Of course, there are just some zombie tropes you can’t avoid — Yes, the zombies here are still ravenous, blood-thirsty reanimated corpses who only seem to die if they’re shot in the head. 

What makes the zombies in Black Summer different, however, is that these are not just slowly walking, stupid dead bodies. These zombies aren’t stupid — they are intelligent, fast-moving, and flesh-hungry human beings who have gone terrifyingly feral.

Nevertheless, the biggest difference is how people actually become zombies — death. Yes, people in Black Summer don’t become zombies just by being bitten by one. They become zombies by simply dying. Someone can be shot, stabbed, bludgeoned or hit by a car — and a few seconds later, they’re an absolute ferocious beast ready to tear apart the first human or animal they can get their bloody hands on. 

The series is absolutely not for the faint of heart. The violence and gore is pretty much constant throughout, and the undead are fast, driven, hungry and absolutely relentless — seriously though, these fuckers never give up. 

Despite how swift these zombies move, the pacing of the story is slow and deliberate. Chase scenes and getaway sequences are long, but they build tension in such a way that you find yourself almost having an anxiety attack watching someone walk through an empty supermarket looking for a snack; you just know something is about to happen. 

There is virtually no score, as in most horror films — no continuously playing ominous music letting us know that something is about to jump out at us. During a chase, all you hear is heavy breathing and the patting of running feet on the ground. No other soundtrack needed. 

Unlike many other thrillers, there aren’t any deep, character-driven plotlines. Not to say that this means the series is vapid — but the focus is purely placed on survival. Strangers band together to fight not only the zombies, but other fully alive human beings who have been driven to complete depravity in a desperate attempt to survive. 

We know virtually nothing about the characters’ backstories. All we know is that Rose (Jaime King) is searching for the daughter she was separated from in the beginning; we know Julius “Spears” James (Justin Chu Cary) is an escape convict; and we know Ooh “Sun” Kyungsun (Christine Lee) is a Korean woman who doesn’t speak English and is looking for her mother. We only get one simple piece of information about who these people are. All we really need to know right now is that they’re trying to survive. 

The first season of Black Summer premiered on Netflix in April of 2019, and the second season premiered a few weeks ago on June 17. We just started watching season one a few days ago, and we’re one episode into season two, so it’s safe to say we’re hooked now. 

Some other facts I learned about Black Summer were that it was not only created by Karl Schaefer and John Hyams, who also created Z Nation, but it’s also set in the same universe; Black Summer is basically the prequel to Z Nation. However, Z Nation is known to be  a campy, fun horror — Black Summer is no laughing matter. 

As reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Times put it, “Black Summer operates in a universe that is fundamentally pessimistic. People meet and are separated randomly. Death is a numbers game in which the odds are against you — even if you looked like a lead character.” I couldn’t agree with this observation more. 

However, this does make me question where Black Summer will go in the seasons to come. These people can’t just run forever without us knowing who they are. At some point, they’ll have to stop running, and the show will have to give us something a little bit more than a fight for survival to keep us invested  — Or do they? 

I guess we’ll soon find out, but for now I’ll continue watching season two while experiencing multiple episodic anxiety attacks. I’m not sure if I’ve ever really welcomed anxiety this much. 

Watch seasons one and two of Black Summer, streaming now on Netflix. 

Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.

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