The past fifty years have brought forth an army of zombie movies and TV shows, many of them great, some barely shambling. The ones that manage to subvert expectations naturally stand out from the horde. And Black Summer in its second season does precisely that. Produced by The Asylum as a companion show to nearly-comical zombie series Z Nation, Black Summer premiered in spring 2019 on Netflix. Unlike its parent show, Black Summer decidedly isn’t humorous or comical, but rather bleak and existentially-minded. The first season was good, but mostly a straightforward story set in the beginning of your typical zombie apocalypse. And as the title suggested, it took place in summer. Season two took it upon itself to upend the formula. And unlike most cases, the sequel definitely came out better.
The personnel behind the scenes have remained largely the same. Once more supervised by show runners John Hyams (son of legendary director Peter Hyams) and Karl Schaefer, Black Summer season two grabs attention by obviously not taking place in summer. It’s four months after the events of the first season, and the few surviving characters have made it to the far north, where everything’s frozen, snowed over, and beset by winds. We’re never told where any of Black Summer in both seasons takes place, and it doesn’t matter. The contrast between the title of the show you’re watching and what transpires on-screen is only the first magic trick the series pulls off. Notably, Black Summer season two includes sly tributes to The Last of Us parts one and two, with several similar locations and a bigger emphasis on armed conflict between humans, as opposed to humans working together against the zombies in the first season. But there’s lots more that’s infinitely more profound than that about Black Summer part two.
As for characters, from the first season we get mother and daughter pair Rose and Anna, played by Jaime King and the brilliant Zoe Marlett, who steals every shot and scene she’s in. Former soldier Spears comes back, played by Justin Chu Cary, and Christine Lee reprises her role as Sun. They’re joined by a cast of new characters, and all of the acting is consistently excellent despite challenging conditions and a relatively low production budget, a trademark of The Asylum.
Each episode consists of several sub-sections or stories. They’re told out of order at times, and at other times in linear succession. The show constantly messes with viewers and keeps us on guard. The mood is desolate and full of dread. This is not a happy, hopeful, or heroic show, but rather a tale of survival and the lengths people will go to in order to try and make it. While not too gory, Black Summer isn’t for kids, as there’s a lot of mature language and it’s still a zombie show.
What really makes Black Summer season two rise from the pack is the Saving Private Ryan-grade photography. Done entirely by cinematographer Yaron Levy and aided by masterful editing via Andrew Drazak, Black Summer season two has it all. From grand vistas of natural landscapes to seemingly seamless tracking shots of gunfights and zombie chases that appear to go on forever. Then there’s the Kubrick-esque treatment of indoor settings, which will make you think of The Shining. The presentation is in very good 4K HDR, so if you have the right setup you will enjoy a proper visual feast.
It’s difficult to explain just how good the show looks, and waxing literal about it won’t help. Suffice to say we did not expect a low budget zombie series to have this much impact and to look and move so well. We wish some of the highest-budgeted productions out there would have a smidgeon of the style, awareness, and wow factor of Black Summer season two. This proves it’s not in the budget, it’s really in the talent and dedication. Importantly, Black Summer knows how to transition effortlessly between introspective or tense interpersonal scenes to sudden bursts of violent action without even breaking a sweat and remaining completely natural about it.
Likewise, the soundtrack by Alec Puro is sublime. Mostly made of ambient mood-setting background music, the audio knows when to ratchet up without coming across melodramatic or corny.
For a show about the end of the world, Black Summer is deeply uplifting thanks to its great stories, characters, and phenomenal presentation. If you only have time to watch one show on Netflix this summer, we highly recommend you make it Black Summer, you won’t be disappointed.