TRIBECA Review: The Night Eats The World is Lonely Terror

Like the subjects themselves, zombie films simply won’t stay dead. At least that’s what cynical horror fans have been saying for the past decade as AMC’s The Walking Dead proliferated the medium like a Wal-Mart decimating any small business in its way. There may be good zombie films being released, but not only can it be hard to wade through the never ending cycle of new Redbox released TWD clones, it’s also just plain exhausting. But the Z-Films are here to stay, clearly, and while new ground may not be tread that should not denigrate the effectiveness of a film. Enter: The Night Eats The World (La nuit a dévoré le monde)

Sam just wants to get his tapes back, but as he ventures to his implied ex-girlfriend Fanny’s new flat, she of course is having a huge house warming party. She tells him to wait, which he does, but as the night lingers on he falls asleep in a back room. When he awakes he finds chaos and blood stained walls and the remnants of last nights party hungry for his brains. So what’s a guy to do? Bunker. The. Fuck. Down. Like a zombie fried take on Rod Daniels’ The Super, Sam secures the six floor apartment building and calls it his new home. He meticulously counts and measures his food, he lazily shoots paintballs at the walking dead outside, he creates Rube Goldberg like set up’s of everyday objects with beats played from a portable tape player to create music to pass the time. He also speaks with Alfred, the former doctor who’s flat he takes over, who is now a zombie and stuck in an elevator. Like a slightly more alive version of the infamous Wilson from Castaway, Alfred is Sam’s one and only confidant and moral compass by purely being a reminder of humanity. It’s these flourishes that set The Night Eats The World apart from 99% of the zombie films being made in the last year alone, but it can’t fully pull us out of the familiar feeling that we’ve still sort of seen this all before.

Directed by Dominique Rocher and based on Pit Agarmen’s novel, the movie doesn’t leave the safety of the apartment building unless it’s to peer across an empty Paris from the roof, or the few times Sam ventures a few yards from the front door. And because of that, the success of the film falls on Anders Danielsen Lie’s shoulders as what our focus is, and he does a remarkable job. This film has long stretches of silent action that I didn’t realize until after no words were spoken. Conveying complex emotions without the power of the spoken word is tough, and Lie does it quite well. Even more delightful though is just how damn good the zombies look in this film. We measure now how “refreshing” a z-film is by how the zombies act. Here the film shines, giving us a fine balance of the running, tear you apart zombies we are familiar with while imbuing them with a Romero sensibility, reminding us of their inherent human qualities like a child’s difficulty grasping object permanence. A major highlight of the film though is Denis Lavant (Holy Motors, Mauvais Sang) as the zombie Alfred, giving the best turn as a zombie since Bub from Day of the Dead. Trust me, he’s truly remarkable in his expressiveness, but then again we expect no less from Mr. Lavant.

The problem is this Refreshing Zombie Movie™ still feels as if it should have come out in the wake of 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, or even the first wave of films that those influenced like Extraterrestrials and Rammbock: Berlin Undead.  It made me nostalgic, surprisingly, for the cinema of 2004 when zombie films were new, when we as horror fans couldn’t believe the level of Z content we were getting. It makes us yearn for a time when blood could be wrought from the Zed-stone. But now we are left with solid entries that, no matter how good and inventive, still feel like old hat. And while The Night Eats The World is truly a solid, gorgeously photographed film, you may still be left asking “Were zombies the only way to tell this story?”