The Night Eats the World Review
The Night Eats the World (2018) Film Review from the 17th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Dominique Rocher, and starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Golshifteh Farahani, Denis Lavant, and Sigrid Bouaziz.
So the whole Zombie Apocalypse genre has been around for a while. There have been rules & lore established, and all sorts of memes & tropes attached – it’s pretty much become a culture on to itself. That said, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve come to recognize that certain tropes have achieved cliche status. For the sake of this review, I’d like to single out the one about the survivor who becomes a liability for other survivors – the one that always prompts the question “how did this person make it this far, in the first place?” Well, The Night Eats the World may count as an answer to that question.
Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) stood out in the very first scene of the film, as the one guy at a raucous Paris apartment party not having any fun. Understandable, considering that he was only there to collect some things from his ex (the party’s host), wanted nothing to do with her scene, and was growing resentful of having to endure it, while she got around to his request. When he finally had enough, he badgered a location out of her, and tracked them down, himself. Once there, he locked himself in, and went about collecting his things. Given the relative quiet & seclusion of the room, a hard knock he took, along the way, and his general weariness over it all, he dozed off. He then proceeded to sleep through the horrors of the last night of civilization.
This was the setup for what would essentially be a film less about surviving a Z event, and more about one particular individual’s coping mechanism. At best, I’d say the film’s conflict came from the fact that his coping mechanism often ran contrary to basic survivalist thinking – making him his own worst enemy. At worst, I’d say the film wasted too much time & effort trying to get us to sympathize with a character that simply couldn’t get out of his own way. Unfortunately, I’m inclined to think the film weighed heavier towards the latter.
On its surface, The Night Eats the World might seem to borrow aspects from more mainstream genre examples. If you were really in a hurry, you could describe it as a bridge between 28 Weeks Later & whatever enumeration of the franchise comes next. SPOILER: that film ended with a Paris outbreak; but it was the speed & ferocity of the zombies that first brought the comparison to mind. Well, that, and the whole waking up to a Z apocalypse trope, of course. As the film progressed, it seemed as though World War Z‘s approach seemed more evident, as we were asked to accept some curious zombie behavior, critical to the climax of the film.
The lack of any explanation, given the singular protagonist’s view of events, meant that the script was free to take liberties with the hows & whys of the threat posed; but this also left the focus almost entirely on the hows & whys of Sam. For the most part, that was frustrating.
For starters, after Sam survived the realization moment, his approach to the situation was a combination of curiosity & boldness, worthy of an ethnic stereotype joke. Good reflexes, and a certain resilience, were mitigating factors; but all that guaranteed was more opportunity for Sam to act on his curiosity & boldness.
I might’ve been fine with that – particularly when he is portrayed as that rare character that has actually “seen this kind of movie” – but once the film became a study in how Sam copes with being the last man on Earth, it almost becomes an exercise in self-indulgence. To put it simply, Sam seemed more concerned with making the most of his new world, than he was over having lost the old one. Yes, he was introduced as the outsider, crashing a party that seemed to mock his ejection from the ex’s social circle; but was his pre-apocalypse life really that bad?
The film did have its finer points. I was particularly fond of an aerial view of Sam on the rooftop, taking in the relative size of his new inner-city island, amid a sea of undead. The script also put a genuine effort into making him thoughtful & sentimental – as exemplified by his ‘friendship’ with Alfred (Denis Lavant), a zombie he felt content to leave trapped in the building’s lift.
The constant acting out undermined this, however, making gestures like attempting to save a cat seem more like it was done for his own benefit (consider his reaction to how that effort ended). Alfred became his own personal sounding board; and while he was supposed to be some kind of musician – explaining why he would occasionally be more invested in listening to tapes, than keeping all senses tuned to his predicament – his seeming contempt for stillness & quiet was just counter-productively dumb.
At the risk of sounding petty, his occasionally looking & acting like a cross between Zach Braff & Christian Bale – at their absolute, most openly contemptible – didn’t help.
The I-quit-moment came when he reached a breaking point, after the threat had subsided, and reacted to the eventual emptying of his neighborhood in the most counterproductive way imaginable. It was a truly wincing, throw-your-hands-in-the-air inducing scene, that made it clear that this guy had his priorities way off.
An unexpected consequence of this act would force some clarity; but not necessarily the kind he needed. For a brief moment, his solitude ended. To the film’s credit, Sam was not given a pass, for how he crossed paths with true survivor, Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani); but a significant amount of time was devoted to how that meeting changes him, before the climax.
The fact that the climax was brought on by another act of careless sentimentality, again undermined what should have been Sam’s soulful awakening moment; and while he did learn enough from that moment to get past what came next, I fear he did not learn enough to change his overall outlook.
At its resolution, The Night Eats the World divested itself of its singular setting; but kept the singular source of all its problems. What should have been an open question of what comes next, was better served by a question of who’s problem will this be, now.
I suppose it wasn’t a total loss – The Night Eats the World could always be regulated to cult status as a cautionary tale, or a context piece for those curious about the mindset of genre bad eggs. The next time someone wonders where a Z film survivor group’s inevitable liability came from, you can always direct them here.
That’s as close to a recommendation as I can give.
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