EZMM 2020 Day 3.2: The Night Eats the World (2018)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

We’ve all been there, right? You go to your ex-girlfriend’s place to pick up your cassette tape collection but she’s throwing a huge party, like so huge there are more people there than you even know. It’s crazy and she’s busy hosting and keeps blowing you off, telling you to just relax and have fun. But you really don’t want to be there, watching her have fun with other guys. You just want to get your tapes and go home.

Then, when she finally relents and tells you where they are, you get accidentally busted in the nose by some rando in the overcrowded house and when your nose starts bleeding you settle in to the back room (where your tapes are, by the way), lock the door, and pass out.

But when you wake up, it’s the next morning and the apartment’s been trashed, there’s blood everywhere, and zombies are roaming the stairway and the streets.

That’s the set-up for French zombie film The Night Eats the World (La nuit a dévoré le monde), directed by Dominique Rocher, from a screenplay by Rocher, Jérémie Guez, and Guillaume Lemans, and based on the novel of the same name by Pit Agarmen (the pen name for French author Martin Page). The rest of the film consists of Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) sheltering in place and slowly going mad with loneliness.

It’s well-written, well-directed, and well-acted, so it’s hard not to like the film. And as we’re in the middle of a real-life quarantine, Night Eats the World really hits home a lot harder than it might have during last year’s Easter Zombie Movie Marathon. It’s also a very quiet movie most of the time. Danielsen Lie rarely speaks, instead carrying the film with his physical performance. He’s a drummer in real life and that comes into play here as he finds extremely entertaining ways to perform original percussive music a couple of times over the course of the film.

It was probably a good thing that the writers changed the character to a musician (he was a writer in the novel), as it allows the narrative to focus on non-verbal storytelling rather than relying on monotonous voice-over. We don’t need to have Sam telling us how hopeless he feels, or how lonely he is. We see it. If Danielsen Lie wasn’t up to task with this performance, the entire film would fall apart and be unwatchable.

The silence is important thematically, of course, emphasizing Sam’s isolation and making any expression of music, of personality, dangerous. The zombies react to sight and sound, but have very short attention spans, quickly calming down and returning to semi-catatonia, just standing around in the street. The social criticism implied is pretty obvious but isn’t really groundbreaking.

Despite Danielsen Lie’s excellent performance, however, the character of Sam is less interesting than his daily routines. And when interesting developments occur, like capturing a zombified old man in the elevator and keeping him there for company, the film doesn’t go far enough to become memorable. There are narrative possibilities that could be explored with these interactions, but they’re wasted. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to avoid sensationalized storytelling, to the point where their restraint hamstrings the dynamics of the story.

I wanted to see some more extreme reactions to Sam’s isolation. I wanted him to be more unlikeable. I wanted him to change, to learn something. Anything. His reaction to seeing a living cat on the street was perfect. He was desperate for companionship and risked his life to save the stray. But when it rejects him – seemingly preferring to rub against the leg of its zombified owner – he reacts violently, shooting the cat. That triggered a visceral reaction. I hated him in that moment.

The rest of the time, I was just amused by him. I didn’t really feel anything for him. By internalizing his emotional reactions and downplaying his slide into insanity, I felt like I missed the opportunity to connect. We’ve watched him make music and scavenge for food, and he’s avoided the zombies more than he’s engaged them. Then, when he actually kills the family of zombies he’s locked away in their apartment – a father, mother, and child – we still don’t get a reaction.

I mean, he shoots a zombie child and we don’t linger at all. The camera practically avoids Danielsen Lie’s face during this act, depriving us – and Danielsen Lie – of the opportunity to visually explore how this violence impacts him. The restraint that the filmmakers commit to makes the finale somehow less exciting, the twist in the plot less interesting, and the final shot more like pretention than insight.

If we weren’t self-isolating right now, I don’t know if The Night Eats the World would leave an impression at all. I get the feeling I’ll have forgotten about this one by next year.

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