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Netflix Brings More Zombies to the Screen with 'Black Summer'
April 11, 2019  | By David Hinckley

If you never thought you’d feel nostalgic for the slow-shuffling zombies of The Walking Dead, check out a few minutes of Black Summer.

Black Summer, a new zombie apocalypse tale that launches Thursday on Netflix with its first eight episodes, apparently feeds its zombies not just on red blood, but on Red Bull.

These walkers are more like sprinters – fast, crazed, powerful and really really hungry. They still don’t have much of a vocabulary, but it’s clear what they want, and they’ll smash doors and windows until they get it.

In contrast to The Walking Dead, which takes a curiously cerebral approach to the ZA, Black Summer plays more like a conventional horror film, with terrified people fleeing in doomed packs from an ever-growing supernatural menace.

More specifically, Black Summer is framed as an early prequel to Syfy’s Z Nation, although its tongue isn’t quite as firmly in its cheek through the first episodes.

Still, the writers get to insert little moments like a car ride where Kyungson (Christine Lee), who seems to speak only rudimentary English, breaks into a duet of “My Old Kentucky Home” with an older woman, Barbara (Gwynyth Walsh).

Kyungson, Barbara and William Velez (Sal Velez Jr., below) have formed an unlikely trio who slammed into each other while trying to dodge angry zombies.

But the time Kyungon and Barbara are harmonizing, it’s clear they’re equally or perhaps more menaced by their fellow living humans, many of whom, in their own desperation to survive, have become homicidal, amoral, and downright untrustworthy.

In that area, Black Summer dovetails precisely with The Walking Dead, where bad-acting humans consistently present a greater and more insidious threat than zombies.

Black Summer doesn’t go the broader Walking Dead route, however. Instead, it zeroes in on terrifying dramas that befall individual survivors in the chaotic early days of the ZA.

There is, literally, panic and mayhem in the streets, as the ragged remnants of an ordered society attempt to provide some sort of rudimentary safety and figure out how this outbreak can be contained and extinguished.

Or, the question no one wants to ask, whether that’s possible. William Velez probably speaks for others when he declares the ZA to be the Lord’s revenge, that humanity brought this punishment on itself by its sheer wickedness.

At the same time, the featured story in Black Summer will feel familiar to everyone who has ever owned a television set.

A young girl gets separated from her parents by National Guard troops. The girl’s mother, Rose (Jaime King, top), vows that no mere zombie apocalypse will keep a mother and daughter apart.

So we begin following Rose on a long and winding road, though Rose must share our attention with a dozen other semi-featured characters.

Toward that end, Black Summer divides each episode into multiple short vignettes, much like a book will follow different characters in different chapters.

It’s a good way to break a long story into bite-size pieces, and a perfect setup for binging. While Black Summer nominally has those eight episodes, it plays much more like one seamless narration.

As with The Walking Dead, it’s probably smart not to get too attached to a lot of characters in Black Summer. We could be looking at a high kill rate.

On the other hand, we get to like several characters up front, including Rose, so Black Summer becomes more than the scary tale of zombies on steroids. It’s a horror movie with a weird but legitimate sort of heart.

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