A short review of Season 1 of “Black Summer” (2019)

I don’t understand how “Black Summer” can be as good as it is.  It’s produced by The Asylum, the makers of low budget, direct-to-video ripoff films like “Atlantic Rim” (2013) and “Triassic World” (2018).  It’s a prequel to the horror-comedy “Z Nation” (2014-2018) — a show that was so bad I couldn’t make it through its first episode.  Yet “Black Summer” is inexplicably a great, albeit imperfect, TV show.  I’d rate it a 9 out 10.

I might be in the minority here; a lot of people are severely panning this show online.  And I do recognize its weaknesses — there is very little detail in its plot or character development … there is often even very little dialogue at all.  And even I recognized some plot holes.  (I’m typically a little slow on the uptake where these are concerned.)

But this bare-bones zombie story still manages to screen some likable characters, and then put them through a thrilling succession of hyper-kinetic chases and melees.  I was on the edge of my seat, and I consequently didn’t miss the methodical, detailed plotting of shows like “The Walking Dead.”  The season’s finale is crowned by an extended, eye-level, real-time action set-piece that ought to be considered a classic in the  zombie-horror subgenre.  It was mind-blowing. I just can’t dislike a horror property that genuinely scared me.

I could simply be out of step with everyone else; I often have different tastes in zombie fare.  I love Zack Snyder’s 2008 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which this series reminds me of.  And I also love similar overseas productions like Spain’s “[REC]” films (2007 – 2014) and Britain’s “Dead Set” miniseries (2008), while those amazing entries are hardly known among my friends.  I also cannot understand why many people who love George A. Romero’s and Robert Kirkman’s productions must always compare other films and TV shows unfavorably to them.  We can love both.  Why not?

Hey, if you don’t want to make my word for it, here is what Stephen King tweeted: “No long, fraught discussions. No endless flashbacks, because there’s no back story. No grouchy teens. Dialogue is spare. Much shot with a single handheld camera, very fluid.”

I obviously recommend this.

 

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Episode 1 of “Black Summer” (2019) looks quite promising.

The hectic first episode of “Black Summer,” Netflix’ new zombie series, looks like ambitious stuff — it plays like a hybrid of “28 Days Later” (2002), “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and “24” (2001-2014).  While it seems unlikely that this show can emulate the greatness of those classics, “Black Summer” still gets off to a damned good start.  I’d rate the first episode an 8 out of 10 for being a pretty lean and mean start to a decent zombie series.

Part of the episode’s appeal is its frantic vibe and format — something that seems like a deliberate contrast to “The Walking Dead’s” slowly placed, methodical epic.  The viewer is plopped down into the middle of a heartland neighborhood evacuation effort, three weeks into a zombie epidemic.  With a series of lengthy, real-time tracking shots, we race beside a collection of unconnected characters who are desperately trying to reach United States Army pickup point.

The zombies are few in number.  But they are the “high-speed zombies” that most modern horror viewers associate with Danny Boyle’s film, so the arrival of even one imperils the fleeing families.  The makeup effects are good, the transformation process is effectively rendered, and the show is satisfyingly scary.  The show makes this even more interesting by filming each character’s dash individually, and then showing them as discrete vignettes that are out of chronological order.  

The story is weakest when it slows down enough to allow its characters to talk.  The dialogue is truly bad, even if the quick action sequences make up for it.  (Has there ever been a more generic bribery offer, for example, then the one we see here?)  But this weakness doesn’t much affect the overall quality of an episode that follows so much action.

I was even more surprised that the episode works when I googled “Black Summer.”  The Netflix series is produced The Asylum, the film company notorious for “mockbusters” like “Dead Men Walking” (2005), “Snakes on a Train” (2006) and … sigh … “Transmorphers” (2007).  What’s more, “Black Summer” is intended as a prequel series to  The Asylum’s “Z Nation,” the lamentable horror-comedy zombie series that ran for three seasons on SyFy.  (It was so bad I couldn’t get through a single episode.)

It’s a weird world.

 

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A review of “The Mist” (2017)

Although it often seemed to show far greater promise, “The Mist” TV series ultimately proved to be pretty average stuff.  I’d rate the 10-episode first season a 6 out of 10.

It started strongly, with real efforts to develop compelling characters, significant tension and a tight plot.  Most of the characters remained compelling.  I found myself liking even Morgan Spector’s protagonist Dad, who I originally thought was milquetoast.  (Spector himself isn’t a bad actor when his character is properly motivated.)  And I found myself really liking Danica Curcic’s troubled, drug-addicted antiheroine.  (She’s one of the best things about the show.)  The young Russell Posner also does some fine work as Adrian.

But the tension that the show created with its eponymous, plot-driving “mist” fizzled toward the end, and just set me up for disappointment.  Fellow monster fans, this is not a creature-feature.  It directly contrasts Frank Darabont’s wonderful 2007 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, by featuring mostly supernatural threats instead of physical ones.

Our heroes facing the mist are confronted mostly by phantoms, and various iterations of … sentient snoke.  (I’m guessing they are … demons?  Or some other non-corporeal bad guys?  At one point, are we actually meant to see the four horseman of the apocalypse kill somebody?  Huh?)  The antagonists’ portrayal is confusing and poorly delineated, and the scare factor consequently wears off toward the end of the season.  And the preponderance of CGI-smoke monsters suggests a fog machine and a limited special effects budget.

This is complicated by confusing and unexpected character decisions, which I can only suggest result from poor writing.  The viewers are expected to believe that nearly everyone in a small northern town — save for maybe six or seven characters — quickly succumb to elaborate, new-age fantasies in order to turn on one another.  (I’m inclined to think they’d more quickly divide along racial, economic and traditionally religious lines.)

It wasn’t all bad.  There were some character twists that I quite liked, and the show assiduously sets up a lot of interesting subplots.  It also moved at a brisk pace, even if its scattered ending left me nonplussed.  It was occasionally pretty creepy in parts, too.  I certainly tuned in every week.

I think maybe I’m just a little disappointed because the trailer made this show look amazing, and, by the end, “The Mist” proved to be an average viewing experience.

 

 

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