What's different about “Black Summer” is that it takes place right when the world is collapsing and the apocalypse is just beginning.

“Black Summer” is a zombie horror series that throws viewers into the beginning of a summer apocalypse. Though there’s an abundance of zombie content in the media, “Black Summer” does its best to tell an original story.

Supposedly a prequel for the Syfy series, “Z Nation,” which ran for five seasons, “Black Summer” stars Jaime King as Rose, a mother determined to do anything in her power to find her lost daughter. Unlike “Z Nation, ”which incorporated comedic elements to balance out its horror, “Black Summer” is grim and filled with action, suspense and tension. Its debut season was somewhat slow at times, but for big fans of the genre, it provides a terrifying ride from start to finish.

Other zombie movies and shows happen when an apocalypse is already far along, but “Black Summer” takes place right when the world is collapsing and the apocalypse is just beginning. This gives it a relatable edge, as the chaos feels so real and stressful that viewers get a sense of how desperate and scary it would be to actually experience. It’s easy to jokingly consider what one would do if they woke up in a zombie apocalypse, but “Black Summer” shows that the reality wouldn’t be fun at all, especially as families are torn from one another and homes are evacuated in panic all over town.

Though the darkness of “Black Summer” makes it feel real, it also creates a weak point for the series. It’s an overly bleak show, focusing on themes of mortality and the concept of survival of the fittest. This makes room for dark conversations, such as deciding whether or not to stay and die as bait for zombies when trapped in a building, to let the rest of the group escape. While it’s interesting to think about these types of grave choices, the only emotional weight comes from viewers being able to connect to the fear of the characters, as the show rarely explores its cast.

Even though “Black Summer” features an ensemble cast, it doesn’t give many of them distinct traits or personalities except for Rose, whose main story is attached to finding her daughter. On the flip side, there’s another character, Kyungson (Christine Lee), who’s a daughter desperately trying to find her mother. Overall, many characters aren’t given room to grow nor do they have any strong characteristics or backstories that give the audience reason to become deeply invested in them. If one were watching for nothing but the zombies, this wouldn’t be a huge issue, but if the viewer prefers character-driven stories, “Black Summer” doesn’t have much to offer.

The filming style for the series also adds to its tension. Most episodes feature several action, running and chase sequences which are filmed through extended tracking shots. This creates the feeling that the scene is never-ending and continuous, and the viewer can’t catch their breath until the threat is gone. Some chase scenes are long, and there’s one episode with a scene that features a single character on the run from zombies with almost no dialogue at all for 20 minutes. Additionally, most of the coloring for scenes is grey and mundane, contributing to the show’s hopeless and dark tone.  

Viewers will know what they’re getting into with each episode through the way they’re set up. The episodes are divided into different acts, all signaled by a title screen with phrases like “The Heist,” “Mirage” or “A Plan.” These set up the following scenes and tell the audience what the focus of the plot will be. Some television shows have done this for specific episodes here and there, but “Black Summer” is consistent with it  throughout the season.

Though “Black Summer” puts some unique spins on the almost worn-out zombie story, it most likely won’t be heavily remembered in the future. Despite that, during its eight-episode run, the show provides some brainless excitement and stressing terror. For anyone who can’t get enough of zombies, “Black Summer” is worth the time.

Contact Kira Baldau at baldaukb@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.