It’s not a dream, but it is a nightmare.
We all know there are too many zombie movies being made, but just as George Romero’s Bub was one charismatic flesh-eater in a million dullards it’s also true that the sub-genre features more than a few films that standout from the pack. And now we can add Dominique Rocher‘s feature debut The Night Eats the World to the short list.
Is there anything worse than having to visit your ex to retrieve items from your past life together only to find she’s throwing a party with her new lover and dozens of their shared friends? Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) certainly doesn’t think so, and after quickly realizing his ex’s new world is one where he doesn’t belong he heads to a quiet room in the flat and promptly falls asleep. He awakes the next morning to find the party is over… for the human race! Yeah, he didn’t see that coming either and is surprised to find bloody walls inside and wandering packs of zombies outside on the streets of Paris.
At least his ex isn’t happy in love anymore.
Rather than venture too far out Sam instead decides to fortify the apartment building and hole up there in an attempt to avoid being eaten, but the freedoms he finds grow to be outweighed by all that he’s lost. Desperate for conversation, he keeps a zombified neighbor (Denis Lavant) trapped behind an elevator gate — the newly undead man doesn’t answer, but the sounding board to Sam’s half of a discussion is as close as he has to the real thing. It works for a while, but he can’t wait out the apocalypse.
We already know that zombies can be terrifying when they snarl (28 Days Later) and scream (Les Affames), but one of The Night Eats the World‘s many highlights is the realization that they’re even scarier when they’re silent. The undead here look and act the part as they bare their teeth, run when in pursuit, and tear into flesh with abandon, but they do it all without uttering a sound. It adds an additional layer of eerie silence to an already quiet and desolate city with scenes like the one pictured above echoing the horror in silence.
Their lack of vocal stylings is fitting for the film as Rocher crafts something of a slowburn here punctuated with brief bursts of violence and energetic tension. Sam’s solitude is real, but it’s something he’s felt well before the world ended. He’s a lonely and depressed man, and with no one to truly talk with it’s left to Lie’s face to express the isolation and sadness. Anyone who’s seen the brilliant and devastating Oslo, August 31st (2011) — which should be all of you — knows that Lie is more than up to the task. You can see the strain as he tries to make the best of his new lot in life, and while more graphic and definitive pain is evident elsewhere his suffering is that much sharper.
Sam’s exploration of the building involves grisly discoveries and surprise altercations, and the film pops with bloody excitement every time. The balance between the tones works beautifully to mimic Sam’s state of mind, and it’s these interactions that eventually push him towards a change. To that end the film’s approach to introspection over action-oriented exploration may not be to everyone’s speed.
The film looks and sounds good as well with visuals and a score that capture Sam’s calm and quiet loneliness as well as his sporadic bursts of high blood pressure. Cinematographer Jordane Chouzenoux reveals in wide shots the stillness of the city, but it’s inside the confines of the apartments where he takes full advantage of every corner and shadow to build Sam’s new home. Composer David Gubitsch is equally successful at mirroring Sam’s days of seclusion in a city of millions before exploding to life with the appearance of the dead.
Zombie films typically fail due to a lack of creativity and/or a lack of engagement with the protagonists, but The Night Eats the World easily sidesteps both issues. We care about Sam, and we’re invested in his predicament. He may not be the typically heroic last man standing, but sometimes you have to accept the world you wake up in.
[The Night Eats the World opened in limited release on July 13th.]