Aug 4, 2018

Director: Dominique Rocher
Writers: Dominique Rocher, Guillaume Lemans, Jeremie Guez
Stars: Anders Danielsen Lie, Denis Lavant, Golshifteh Farahani, Sigrid Bouaziz

From their initial conception by the late, great George A. Romero, the modern zombie and the stories that can be told with them, have become more and more difficult to do anything original with. Ever since THE WALKING DEAD and its imitators and like-minded competitors have pretty much sucked all the juice out of this particular horror sub-genre, there seems to be little that can be done. In fact, the last thing I saw that came close to being a new, original zombie concept film was COLIN MINIHAN’S IT STAINS THE SANDS RED. I thought that might be the ‘last word’ on how to take the zombies’ sad song and make it better.  I’m happy to report that I was wrong. “DEAD” wrong, so to speak.

LA NUIT A DEVORE LE MONDE, aka THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD, adapted from PIT AGARMEN’S novel by director DOMINIQUE ROCHER, with co-writers GUILLAUME LEMANS and JEREMIE GUEZ, takes the best parts of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND, Danny Boyle’s 28 DAYS LATER, and bits and pieces of some of your other favorite zombie tropes from other recognizable sources, and spins it all into something very surprisingly unique and totally unexpected.

Giving a performance that many actors will envy, NIGHT stars Norwegian actor ANDERS DANIELSEN LIE as “Sam”, who only wanted to go to the Paris apartment of his girlfriend, (ex-girlfriend?) Fanny, (SIGRID BOUAZIZ), and retrieve some of his things – particularly a box of cassette tapes that are very important to him, which contain both memories and music – we come to find out later that Sam is a musician.

Very out-of-place in the collection of “cool people” that Fanny has crammed into her place for some kind of party, Sam is restless, frustrated and filled with a growing anger at not being able to just get his shit and go, what with Fanny playing the kind of bullshit games that couples tend to play with each other, even (and maybe especially) when they’re not couples anymore. But all of that is about to change quick, fast and in a hurry.  Thanks to an accident with one of Fanny’s party guests, Sam ends up with a nosebleed, locking himself inside the office at Fanny’s place, where he finally finds his stuff. But having had a few too many glasses of liquor, he soon falls asleep in a chair, completely oblivious to the nightmare he’s about to wake up to.

And when Sam does finally awake, it’s that scenario that I think every horror fan, and more than a few non-horror fans, have imagined and discussed ad nauseum: When the zombie apocalypse comes, what would you do? Would you be ready, and how would you handle it?

The next eighty minutes or so reveals how Sam answers that question, in a story that is by turns horrific, harrowing and heartbreaking. But it becomes less about the dangers lurking just outside the doors on the Parisian streets, than it does about an in-depth study of one man’s struggle to survive both physically and mentally.

Lie’s performance as Sam hardly strikes a false note once, even when he makes stupid mistakes that almost get him killed on several occasions. Director Rocher gives the impression that he let Lie just take the character and run with it, and if such is the case, it was a damn good call. It takes a lot of balls to ask an audience to sit still for just under two hours, trying to watch a guy not starve and not go insane, unless the script, acting and direction is just that good. And fortunately, in this case, it is.

Aside from a trapped zombie named “Alfred”, (DENIS LAVANT), whom he kind of adopts as a “companion”, Sam has no one to talk to but himself, save for the brief appearance of a young woman, Sarah, (GOLSHIFTEH FARAHANI, giving an understated and stunning, if short turn), which the film almost cruelly teases us with as the possibility of ‘Love Among The Apocalyptic Ruins’ for Sam.

Speaking of attention, the art direction and cinematography is nothing less than bloody amazing (literally in some scenes). When you find yourself wondering how the hell they pulled off a scene of carnage and ruin so convincingly, you know that they did a damned good job of staging it. And I have to give some love to composer DAVID GUBITSCH for not only crafting a wistful, at times even elegiac score, but for creating “Sam’s music”, which sounds every bit like how we would expect the character’s compositions to sound.  Another stunning detail is the juxtaposition of two different shots in the film: a silent cinematic metaphor that compares the situation in which we first met Sam, to a scene towards the end which is radically, terrifyingly different from it…yet shockingly similar.

So once again, even if this seems like it’s a far cry from being original, the originality, as it is with many horror films these days, lies not in the material, but the execution. So much can and will be read into this in terms of interpretation by viewers: as a political allegory; an existential fable that maybe doesn’t even have a moral…choose your own impression of what it is.

I just approached this as a character study unfolding within a world in ruins, and seeing it just as that alone, I think that THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD is just as outstanding a zombie flick as IT STAINS THE SANDS RED is.  For that reason, and Anders Danielsen Lie’s amazing performance, I’m going a bit higher this time, and giving out the rare four-out-of-five stars.