The Night Eats the World (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
In a sea of modern horror films that are loud and over-the-top, “The Night Eats the World” sticks out like a sore thumb. Based on the novel by Pit Agarmen, this limited but proficient undead picture utilizes silence both as a tool for survival and a setting for one’s own psychological warfare. Coupled with a nearly wordless performance by Anders Danielsen Lie (who continues to take on interesting roles), what results is a highly watchable piece in which, despite some contrivances like having to chase after an animal down a zombie-infested street, its restraint becomes its most effective weapon. Here is a film that is aware of its constraints and turns them into strengths.
It is successful in putting the audience in Sam’s mindset, particularly the crippling isolation he feels after having woken up and nobody alive is around. The screenplay by Jérémie Guez, Guillaume Lemans, and Dominique Rocher (who also directs the film) bothers to detail the every day ennui that presses on and eventually comes to possess our protagonist. Like peeling an onion, we observe Sam struggling in a completely new world in which he must either adapt or perish. As a musician, for example, he can no longer create music because loud noises attract the flesh eaters. He must sacrifice his passion in order to survive and so it begs the question: Is survival the same as truly living? Is Sam, too, like the undead—the main difference between them and himself is that at the moment he is in control of his own faculties?
The story takes place in an apartment building in Paris. A chunk of the picture involves the main character checking out every apartment in order to determine if there is any immediate or viable threat. Fallen bodies must be disposed because they rot and create a stench. When he does come across a living dead, he marks the front door with an X using a white chalk—a warning not to enter there again. Doors are locked, but we grow paranoid of the possibility that, like the Velociraptors in “Jurassic Park,” the zombies, too, learn how to open doors eventually. The director employs dark and cramp hallways to create a constant foreboding feeling. When a faintest sound is detected, especially at night, we are conditioned to look down the hallway or under the doors’ crevices for a hint of moving shadows. Perhaps it is a good idea to sleep in an area that functions like a hiding place. You can never be too careful.
Naturally, the protagonist does not always make the smartest decisions. It can be argued that this is a necessary trope because it creates suspense. Maybe the point is to inspire viewers to yell at the screen either to give instructions or to chastise. I enjoyed that the screenplay is able to establish that Sam becomes so desperate for human connection, it is almost as though he has developed a death wish. Weeks pass by, perhaps even months. Sam goes to the roof and observe the once busy-buzzing Parisian streets fall completely silent. He wonders if he is the sole survivor.
Here is a zombie picture that offers no answer to the disease’s origin or what is being done about it. It simply is and, in this case, it works. It is not about the virus but the effects of the apocalypse to one specific person. Most may hastily criticize the final moment. Some will say it is too obvious, others will claim it is too vague. But I think it is the correct decision since its trust is placed in those who have watched closely.