With “The Walking Dead” entering its ninth season on AMC, the zombie trend in pop culture has started to feel a little less undead and a little more dead-dead. But with Dominique Rocher’s new French-language feature “The Night Eats the World,” which had its world premiere on April 21 at the Tribeca Film Festival, we have a new contender for inclusion in the canon of all-time great zombie movies.
Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) is our resourceful hero. Dropping by the housewarming party of an ex and her new beau to pick up the last of his stuff, he’s reserved and reticent with her — he clearly wants to get in and get the hell out. Withdrawing from the thrum of the party to a back room of the spacious Parisian apartment, he dozes off, and the next thing he knows, it’s morning.
But when he emerges, Sam is confronted by chaotic carnage — furniture overturned, blood smeared on the walls, the place totally deserted. Poking his head out the front door, he spies two people standing in the hall, but when they turn to him, their faces are slack and smeared with blood, and they charge at him. Barely managing to slam the door in time, Sam is forced to confront this new reality: only the dead are left to walk the streets, and he’s alone with them.
The zombies bring to mind those of “28 Days Later,” moving with shocking speed and throwing the full weight of their bodies at any living thing that catches their attention. When unoccupied, they stand in place, their bodies seizing and twitching disturbingly as they gaze blankly into the distance.
Eminently resourceful, Sam methodically sweeps and secures the building, consolidating food and other supplies and carefully rationing them. He tries to keep to a routine while he’s holed up alone, jogging through his sealed-off rooms to to fill the time. A particularly stirring scene involves Sam, a musician, improvising a song on whatever makeshift instruments — glasses, bowls — anything he can find. It’s a rare lovely moment in an otherwise bleak situation.
As the weeks blend into months, Sam starts to deteriorate physically and mentally. Shaving his beard and shearing his hair close to the scalp only accentuates his beak-like nose and hollow eyes as he starts to waste away, his fear and isolation eating at his body and his mind.
Rocher doesn’t shy away from gore, but the moments of violence are carefully chosen for maximum impact. There’s very little dialogue or true plot — this is a quiet film, us alone with Sam as he struggles to hold onto his grasp of reality. The genre trappings of the film belie its deeper themes — this isn’t just a great horror movie, it’s a great movie, period.
Tribeca Film Festival 2018 began on Wednesday, April 18 and will run through April 29. Screening information is available via its website.
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