Review of Black Summer (2019)

Moving picture, 7 hours

Seen in 2019.

Civilians seek a safe haven as the US west coast—filmed in Calgary—is overrun by zombies. Conversion to zombiedom is rapid and universal upon death, requiring no sign of prior infection. Zombies also move as fast as the living, and though they can be stopped by severe trauma to organs other than the brain, they are far more resilient than the living.

Zombie-apocalypse drama. Black Summer is technically a prequel to Z Nation (2014) but you can and should ignore that connection. I’ve seen only one episode of the original Z Nation and will not be watching more. It’s poorly executed schlock without notable ideas.

The prequel, on the other hand, is a refreshing return to Romero’s chilling ideas with additional realism. It’s not individual-liberty schlock, not a power fantasy and not a cozy catastrophe, nor a flat social allegory. There is a refugee motif but the zombies are not thematically connected to poor or racialized minorities—nor mall shoppers—and the drama is scaled back with appropriately muted intermittent heroism. As a rule, the characters don’t get to explain their backgrounds or plans and are not conventionally attractive or “worthy” in the romantic manner of mainstream US Übermensch drama.

Though the budget is small, the directorial style is good, with a lot of long takes, varied pacing and limited dialogue. Scenes that would have been too expensive to film are instead described in that limited dialogue. The best of those scenes may not be real; it’s probably a scare tactic: One character describes zombies crossing water in the same way fire ants do it, forming a float of moving bodies, organizing and sacrificing for the collective. Incidentally, comedian Roy Wood Jr. released an album of stand-up comedy in 2019, called No One Loves You, where on the last track he recalls the same image of fire ants crossing water. Fittingly, Wood’s conclusion is that humans are doomed because they don’t do things like that. Zombies potentially doing it breathes new life into the motif.

On a more technical level the craftsmanship is not always top notch. Even characters like “Fields”, who are evidently accustomed to guns and increasingly accustomed to zombies, rarely attempt a head shot or even aimed semi-automatic fire. Instead, it’s mostly full auto whenever possible, with poor results.

moving picture zombie fiction series