Studio: Blue Fox Entertainment
Director: Dominique Rocher
Writer: Guillaume Lemans, Jeremie Guez, Dominique Rocher
Producer: Carole Scotta
Stars: Anders Danielsen Lie, Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant, Sigrid Bouaziz, David Kammenos
A man becomes trapped inside an abandoned apartment building after surviving a sudden zombie outbreak that devastates Paris.
Maybe Sam thought having other people present would defuse any confrontational awkwardness. Maybe he merely wanted to torture himself by witnessing her moving on without him. Either way, Sam picked the wrong night to collect his cassette tapes from ex-girlfriend Fanny, and in more ways than one.
Fanny’s house party in her Paris apartment isn’t Sam’s scene to begin with. After an uncomfortable run-in with Fanny’s new beau Mathieu, Fanny sends Sam to a back room to wait for a moment when the two of them can talk alone. On his way, another partygoer inadvertently elbows Sam in the face and gives him a bloody nose. Seeking solace from his aggravation as well as the hullabaloo, Sam takes a seat, leans his head back to stop the bleeding, and ends up falling asleep. This definitely isn’t Sam’s night. It’s not going to be his morning either.
When Sam wakes, he discovers that somewhere between his shuteye and the sunrise, a sudden outbreak entirely upended the city. Sam will never see that closure with Fanny because now she is a zombie. So is everyone else. Much like Robert Neville versus the “I Am Legend” vampires, Sam finds himself a seemingly sole survivor in an undead apocalypse, confined to a newly uninhabited building that could become his tomb.
Based on the novel “La nuit a devore le monde” written under Martin Page’s pseudonym Pit Agarmen, “The Night Eats the World” refreshingly wastes no time putting its premise in play. Director Dominique Rocher, who adapted the book with two co-writers, doesn’t bother us by making a big deal out of the backdrop. No TV newscasts force understood exposition down our throats. No one flounders around figuring out what the new world’s obvious “rules” are. The film simply sets up Sam in solitude, understands the audience gets it, and moves on with only eight minutes having elapsed.
Sam’s saga stays a predominantly solo affair, though visual appeal never suffers from purposefully Spartan production design. With an aesthetic tuned toward arthouse instead of grindhouse, “The Night Eats the World” uses indie ingenuity to deliver zombie horror on a dime. Establishing shots ably stretch a modest budget using wrecked cars and limbless extras for chilling vistas. Being limited to a single location doesn’t mean the movie has to limit its impressive suggestion of scope.
Having hit the ground running, “The Night Eats the World” trips when it turns the corner into the movie’s skimpy script. Once in that dip, the film becomes a simple series of scenes where Sam forages for food, fends off zombies in one-off encounters, or passes time making music out of household items. Very little story substance takes shape as we basically synch with Sam’s pattern of everyday boredom on a plateau of complacency.
What’s more, or less to be accurate, we don’t learn anything interestingly insightful about Sam. Around the midpoint, Sam intriguingly muses, “dead is the norm now. I’m the one who’s not normal.” Then his introspection shovel stops digging and it’s back to more snapshots from the journal of an isolated survivor. An early sequence of Sam rummaging through personal effects while exploring other apartments teases a postmortem character study of neighbors who didn’t make it. Even that glimmer fades however. You could watch Sam’s meandering on 2x speed without missing an emotional beat, much less a plot point.
It doesn’t help that Sam’s loneliness can take obnoxious forms. In one scene, Sam angrily pounds drums to attract zombies only to scream at them. In another, Sam verbally lashes at a zombie trapped behind an elevator gate in the hall. He’s understandably frustrated of course. But projecting a personality onto a zombie for the purpose of berating an imaginary companion doesn’t make Sam endearing company for an audience.
Initially beguiling for its conceptual presentation, “The Night Eats the World” doesn’t have the grip to be remembered as an all-time standout in zombie fiction. It looks excellent and Rocher demonstrates a creative sense of structure to be sure. But simplicity stales quickly, drying the movie into a 90-minute apocalyptic redux that doesn’t seem to say much about the human condition, or the inhuman one for that matter.
NOTE: The film’s French title is “La nuit a devore le monde.”
Review Score: 55