Horror fans will find lots to love about THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD’s protagonist Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), one of the smartest and most resourceful characters the genre has seen in a long time. Given he’s trapped alone in an apartment building crawling with the undead, Sam is essentially required to carry the film, which feels effortless thanks to smart characterisation and a charismatic performance from Lie. Firstly, he’s a lot more methodical about exploring the building and rationing supplies than I imagine many viewers would be in the same situation; I was honestly impressed by him simply thinking to make a calendar to track his food consumption. Once these early preparations are over, Sam lets loose and starts to have fun with his unique predicament: he uses the zombies outside for paintball target practice and pisses them off by loudly practicing the drums on a balcony just out of reach. Such a quirky turn might sound strange in a film that doesn’t otherwise bill itself as a zom-com, yet the time we spend becoming attached to Sam is worthwhile as it reveals the script’s hidden depths.
Before whatever cataclysmic event set this zombie plague on humanity, Sam was seemingly a regular guy. He had hobbies and formed relationships, the latter of which we see glimpses of in the film’s opening as he attends a party at his ex’s apartment. The confusion, isolation and desperation he feels the next morning upon discovering the chaotic developments are equally valid reactions to a messy breakup, allowing THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD to serve as a bittersweet and shockingly effective allegory for coping with loneliness, and survival on one’s own. In fact, despite the extensive canon of zombie titles I mentioned earlier, the most obvious parallel for me throughout most of this film was Cast Away; Sam even strikes up a Wilson-esque friendship with a trapped zombie named Alfred (Denis Lavant). Much like in reality, Sam’s path towar s progress is hardly straightforward, yet with this interpretation in mind THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD’s final shots of the city sprawled out before him once again surprised me with its poignancy.
However, the one shortcoming of THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD is that its layers hinder its attempts at full-blown horror. Apart from Sam’s initial search of the building, the only times he genuinely seems to be in danger are the result of uncharacteristically stupid choices which I simply didn’t believe. In particular, the action-heavy penultimate sequence of Sam being chased by zombies feels forced and limits the time for viewers to consider a preceding twist. Although I won’t spoil the latter, suffice it to say it could’ve easily been the catalyst for the film’s finale that the chase so clearly wanted to be. Therefore, it’s perhaps best to think of THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD as a character study about loneliness set during a zombie apocalypse. It may have bitten off more than it chew when it comes to balancing horror with its themes, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.
THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD has its Australian premier at the French Film Festival