Confession: I am tired of the zombie subgenre of horror. I think that “The Walking Dead” should have been canceled at least 2-3 seasons ago. I can’t think of a zombie film I watched all that recently that I found that innovative or attention-worthy, other than Cargo (2017), available to stream on Netlflix. Most of the more interesting zombie films, such as 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead, belong to the previous decade. Zombie films tend to come in waves, but this most recent wave has limped along for far too long, like a corpse waiting to be put out of its misery.
With all of that said however, there is one zombie film released this year that warrants viewing, Night Eats the World by French director Dominique Rocher, an adaptation of Pit Agarmen’s novel. Sure, the film checks off a lot of the cliches, including a sudden outbreak and loose social commentary, but more than anything else, the film is a meditation on loneliness. It begins when moody protagonist Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) attends a party hosted by an ex. He heads into an empty bedroom by himself, falls asleep, and wakes up to a zombified world, including the apartment caked in blood. He sees some of the party’s stragglers wandering outside, roaming the streets, hungry for human meat. Suddenly, he realizes that he’s trapped in a building alone with little possibility of escape.
The rest of the film mostly includes quiet scenes, including shots of Sam running around the mostly vacant building to stay in shape. Days, weeks, and possibly months pass. Sometimes, Sam ventures into one of the units to stock up on canned food, but is forced to bolt the doors shut after encountering more of the living dead. He forms a relationship of sorts with a balding zombie trapped in an elevator. This gnawing corpse is played by Denis Lavant, who, though he has no speaking parts, is utterly stellar through his haunting facial expressions. This zombie is humanized and distinct, like Bub in Romero’s Day of the Dead, and in his milky eyes, Sam sees a reflection of his isolated, melancholy state. Who is really worse off in this situation?
There are times when Sam’s frustration erupts, including a scene where he launches into a pounding drum solo that draws a horde of zombies to the apartment complex. Yet, scenes where Sam is truly in danger of becoming zombie meat are relatively few and far between. Instead, the film focuses on what it would be like to be a survivor in a zombie apocalypse, when, as far as you know, all of your family and friends are dead. How do you go on living? Throughout the film, time becomes elastic, and it’s unclear how much time has even passed between the beginning of the film and its conclusion. Will Sam even be better off if he makes it to the final scene? That much is unclear.
Stephen King called The Night Eats the World “a perfectly amazing film” a few weeks ago on Twitter, adding that it will “blow your mind.” I think King’s praise of the film is a little overblown, but I will say that the film deserves attention and has fallen under the radar, unfortunately. It tries to do something different with the zombie genre, and it generally succeeds.