Released July 13, 2018
Unrated (equal to rated R for violence, imagery, and language) – 1hr 33min
Directed by Dominique Rocher
Starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant
When Sam (Danielsen Lie) goes to his ex-girlfriend’s new apartment to reclaim some property she wrongfully took with her, he’s greeted by a raging party and an aggressive new boyfriend. He finds his prized tapes in a back room, but after taking a blow to the head, he passes out in a chair. He awakes to the zombie apocalypse already in progress. As he gradually turns the building into his own fortified stronghold, he may find that sanity is just as fragile as life.
The Night Eats the World is a much more low-key yet bloodier take on I Am Legend. Set in the city of Paris, it also doesn’t take much imagination to frame it as a continuation of the events in 28 Weeks Later. Either way, about 80% of the film focuses on a singular character, so expect large stretches without dialogue and a story that is more an account of events than a solid narrative.
Films of this ilk – the single character showcase – live or die on the strength and depiction of that character. Absolutely nothing else is going to save this kind of movie if that key component is a fail. So, since Anders Danielsen Lee does an admirable job as sole survivor Sam, The Night Eats the World sticks the landing on its most crucial element. He crafts an authentic person out of what is, honestly, not much to work with, as we never get to see Sam living his everyday life or within his comfort zone. He starts off irritated in an awkward social situation engineered by a passive aggressive ex, and things only get far worse from there. As both a contemplative character study and a portrayal of a slow descent into madness, the film is a notable success.
As a zombie movie, the praise is somewhat less glowing. We’ve already surpassed the pop culture critical mass for the undead, so any flick centered around the ol’ flesh chompers has a high bar to clear, whether it’s fair or not. With that, The Night Eats the World hasn’t a single new thing to offer to the mythos of this well-trafficked subgenre. The fast-twitch zombies here are very prominent yet very typical, even if the makeup FX and creature acting are quite good (it does seem that they are stimulated on a plot convenient basis though. What sets them off and what doesn’t varies as needed). This unfortunately gives the film the derivative feeling of ‘yet another one’ – however, at least this one is truly quality, unlike numerous others that aren’t. To its additional credit, it offers a very matter-of-fact presentation of the zompocalypse that wisely recognizes that we don’t need a parade of introductions to well-worn tropes. We know, by now, how these things work and the story utilizes that to better spend its time dissecting Sam’s personal struggles with isolated survival.
Although, despite Danielsen Lee’s adept performance and a script that does squeeze a lot of value from the mundane, that struggle does start to wear thin through the film’s second act. When circumstances abruptly change as The Night Eats the World approaches its finale, it’s a welcome shift. As the character of Sam grows progressively unhinged, he becomes an increasing chore to be around. The runtime is already a sparse 93 minutes, but this may have been an experience best suited by a super-tight 80-minute cut. Not every interlude in his lonely existence is a fundamental or necessary revelation, and their omission may have lended more wallop to the finish.
In all, The Night Eats the World is a compelling zombie movie in the post-Romero style, with its sprinting corpses and emphasis on internal conflicts over external ones. While it makes a fine addition to the ever-sprawling library of the z-brand of horror, it never quite transcends its numerous predecessors in any truly memorable way. Yet, as the 2010’s are soon approaching their end, it will warrant a noteworthy mention in this decade’s collection of films featuring the undead.
The Night Eats the World gets a rating of