The world of horror is vast. With so many films across the spectrum of budget, studio involvement, quality, availability, and, above all else, pure scare-the-living-shit-out-of-you-ness, it helps to have trained professionals parse through some of the older and/or lesser-known offerings. That's where Team Fangrrls comes in with Deep Cuts, our series dedicated to bringing the hidden gems of horror out of the vault and into your nightmares. Today, we sink our teeth into uniquely unnerving French zombie drama The Night Eats the World.
Breaking up can be hell. There's a unique sting when retrieving your stuff from the ex there in a box lie all those little bits of you, gathered like trash, tossed aside like easily discarded memories. It's even worse for introverted Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), the unlikely hero of the French horror-drama The Night Eats the World. Not only does he arrive at his ex-girlfriend's apartment to see her with her new beau, but also he's surprised by a party in full swing. Amid these raucous revelers, his misery shines like a dark beacon. To escape their stares, sullen Sam retreats to an empty room to get his things and await the "talk" his ex-girlfriend has begged of him. But she never comes. Instead of that assuredly awkward encounter, Sam falls asleep and awakes to a world transformed and terrible.
In the night, a mysterious plague ripped through the streets of Paris, turning the partiers outside his door into mindless, carnivorous zombies. Sam awakes to an apartment silent and trashed. Furniture is overturned, blood smears the walls, and when he finally finds his ex, half of her face has been stripped away, while the other half lunges to bite him. Peering out windows, Sam realizes the streets below are unsafe. So he barricades himself inside the building, scavenging food and weapons from abandoned apartments, securely locking those with lingering undead. His will be a tale of survival at the end of the world.
Based on Pit Agarmen's novel, The Night Eats the World is an unusual zombie movie in that it focuses on just one man, who chooses not to be a hero but just to hide from the rotting, ravenous world outside. Sam's plan is shortsighted, but it keeps him alive. Still, as the days go on, survival is insufficient. To stave off stir-craziness, Sam turns to his old cassette tapes for comfort. He creates music using abandoned things, like toys, a tape recorder, drinking glasses, and a damp sponge. And he makes a pet of a gawping zombie caged by a gated elevator. Still, his loneliness gnaws at him relentlessly. As he did at the party, Sam has walled himself off from the world, isolating himself into an existence of minimal risk and no people.
We never know what Sam's ex-girlfriend wanted to say to him. But when a survivor invades his solitude, we're given a solid idea. Equipped with a backpack and some truth bombs, Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani) breaks into Sam's safe house and through his barriers. She tells Sam she's survived by moving from place to place in search of something worthwhile. Chastising Sam for his aversion to risk, she points out that his circumstances have not gotten worse, but how can they get better this way? These two discuss the survival of the zombie apocalypse, but it's a metaphor about stagnation and fear. Sam's life hasn't changed that much since the zombie apocalypse. Fear drove him to shut himself off, physically and emotionally, at the party and in his relationships. And here—at the world's end—he's done it again. But the final act of The Night Eats the World dares him to change. Not just to survive, but to live. Through this, the film challenges its audience to ponder their own stagnation, that fear that keeps them from truly living. And there this story delivers its most haunting bite.
While there are snapping zombie hordes, grim gore, and disturbing violence, the real horror at the heart of The Night Eats the World is Sam's self-imposed isolation. In his feature directorial debut, Dominique Rocher uses silence to chilling effect. The zombies do not groan or growl, but mutely clamor with groping hands and lightly clicking chomps of their teeth. Their silence is uniquely unnerving, making them more dangerous and less human. For much of the film, the only music is diegetic, either made by Sam or played in his Walkman. So the only sounds in this world are his own. This sparse sound design envelops us in his suffocating sense of isolation. The sound of Sarah's voice is a huge relief. But this soothing is short-lived as this sly drama barrels into its messy, mad climax.
If you're looking for a zombie movie bursting with bloody carnage and flesh-ripping set pieces, The Night Eats the World will not satisfy. But if you're hungry for something new and risky, I highly recommend Rocher's stirring, smart, and emotionally riveting spin on the genre.