If you’re fatigued from an over-saturation of zombie movies, don’t lose faith just yet. Writer/director Dominique Rocher’s feature debut The Night Eats the World is a refreshing take on the zombie film, meditating on the toll that trauma and loneliness can take on one’s mind.
The film follows Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) who, in an effort to retrieve some of his belongings, arrives at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment just as she’s throwing a huge party. She sends Sam to a quiet room and tells him to wait there for her so they can have a chat. Sam falls asleep there, only to awake the next day and find Paris overrun with the living dead. He goes into survival mode, ultimately deciding to hunker down at the now-silent party house and make do for as long as he can. From there, the film captures Sam’s decline from an optimistic survivor making the best of a terrible situation to a fearful waif.
A slow burn throughout, The Night Eats the World keeps its cards close to its chest. The film is low-key, save for small bursts of tension-filled dread. Taking on the narrative from a seldom-explored perspective, most of the horror of Sam’s predicament – stay and risk running out of resources or leave and risk being caught by the undead lingering outside his door – actually stems from the character’s own psyche rather than from the monsters. Relatedly, horror is found in the mundane parts of life that become difficult in moments of crisis. This allows viewers to consider their own actions in such a situation, and makes us that much more invested in the story. There will certainly be those who will miss the chaos and violence found in most zombie flicks, but Rocher’s film deftly ratchets up plenty of tension without those elements.
While some of the dialogue may be clunky, writers Guillaume Lemans, Jérémie Guez, and Rocher give Sam other, more intriguing means of expression. For instance, he is provided with a confidant in the form of one of the undead, trapped in the apartment elevator, reaching and biting slowly and hungrily at Sam each time he walks by or talks at him.
Additionally, Rocher’s subtle direction articulates a true vulnerability and sense of terror in our protagonist. While Sam may not have many full conversations wherein he can express how he’s feeling, we can see it in the way his body gradually becomes more gaunt, in the ornate, visually compelling rituals he performs to maintain a sense of normalcy, and in his sheer desperation for companionship. Where The Night Eats the World stumbles in terms of messy dialogue (and some awkward delivery), it regains its footing with its imagery.
The Night Eats the World is a great choice for the patient horror fan who appreciates a film that takes its time. The Night Eats the World is a well-crafted nightmare that holds its own among the best zombie films in recent memory.