There’s nothing scarier than being unable to stop yourself from hurting the ones you love. The line between possession and zombification is almost indistinguishable. Consciousness is subdued and powers are heightened. That’s the reason why Romero made a fine living with shufflers, slowly ambling toward the demise of the people they once cherished, open palms slapping against barred doors to gain access to inner sanctums. But when the metaphor for endless consumerism and the internal strife of wondering if there’s anything left of humanity in a saga like The Walking Dead wears thin, directors can always turn up the volume.
That’s the recipe of Netflix’s Black Summer. It’s eight episodes of sprinting zombies from 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead, Ving Rhames holding a shotgun your head as he whispers, “Say something,” over and over again the whole time. The action IS the character development. There’s no yak-fest backstory or flashbacks. The world is over. Every moment of downtime is a breath between crises. It’s gory and honest, exactly like it would be if such a highly contagious pathogen ever came to be. Characters reveal themselves through their actions.
And yet, for all it hearkens back to, it still pushes boundaries. In the opening episode, a muffled blowhorn sounds a call for evacuees, bringing the huddled survivors out of their homes, running down the street of a nameless suburb as infected jump out, scattering them. The camera jostles and bumps without the found footage noise and at one point, for nearly ten whole minutes, we follow one of the infected, their breath coming in ragged snarls, as they run through the alleys of the neighborhood, attempting to find their next meal. It works because the narrative bounces around the neighborhood from character to character. It’s terrifying on a whole new level because, the only question about zombies that remains is what do the infected know? What is the experience like? Viewing your motions through the wide end of a telescope, removed and unable to stop yourself? A passenger in your own mind?
Whether it’s Romero’s metaphor or The Walking Dead’s endlessly unresolved meditation on how low humanity can sink while still being salvageable, Black Summer makes you wonder if, in the real world, there’s even anything left to save. It starts in the suburbs and ends in a modern gladiator arena, stopping in nameless restaurants, bullying schools, and travelling on lonely highways. Society is all the sad things in between and everyone is out for themselves. Trust no one.
Or maybe just trust me. This is one more zombie franchise you should check out. Where actions speak louder than words and you can imagine yourself forced to choose, over and over again, the lesser of two evils.