The term “cosy catastrophe,” coined a long time ago by sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss to describe books like John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, is often used as an insult to describe end-of-the-world fantasies that, you know, are actually pretty alright, all things considered. You’re one of the lucky ones, in this case, who have survived some sort of crazy disaster, and you get to reap the spoils of ruined civilization and be a major part of any rebuilding that takes place.
One could say that Dominique Rocher’s new zombie film, The Night Eats the World, falls pretty comfortably into this category: You have a film that isn’t interested in the physical struggles of its protagonist, as he always has a pretty solid supply of food and great housing, but rather his emotional struggle, dealing with the loneliness of the post-apocalypse and his own failing mental state. It’s an engaging and pretty little film, one that fits comfortably in the ranks of other “Last Man on Earth” stories like The Quiet Earth or Z for Zachariah, and I’d say it’s a fascinating watch if you’re fed up with The Walking Dead-derivative horseshit.
All Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie, best known for his role in Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st) wanted were his tapes back. Having recently split up with his ex-girlfriend, he goes to her apartment one final time to pick up his few remaining things, not knowing that she’s throwing an (unrelated) party. So, with his ex’s attention split between dozens of people and him not feeling the general celebratory vibe, Sam finds himself nodding off in a room by himself. He sleeps, undisturbed, until morning, missing what will turn out to be the end of the goddamn world. Sam wakes up, notices the blood all over the walls in the apartment, and discovers a few zombified guests hanging out outside. He is seemingly alone in the entire city, and after the initial tears, he begins to settle into a new routine. He begins to take over the entire apartment building that he finds himself stranded in, moving from floor to floor gathering supplies. He works out. He makes music. He becomes friends with a zombie trapped in the building’s elevator. He attempts to catch a cat for companionship. All in all, it’s not such a terrible life. At least while the weather’s good and while the zombies can’t hear you. Of course, he might not be the only person left, and when his supplies run out, he’ll have to make some drastic choices in order to stay alive.
Rocher has a solid and focused command of his particular skill set: He’s able to make certain moments really sing with his own peculiar blend of laconic suspense. The cat-catching bit, in which Sam is forced to go out into the street surrounded by the infected, is a particularly great character bit and set-piece. The director also has a game collaborator in the face of Danielsen Lie, who gamely puts himself out there as the movie begins to go to more extreme places, and the gradual opening up of his character, much like the peeling of an onion, reveals some surprisingly potent content. Sam is never just a cypher or an audience surrogate, though at the start he threatens to be, and I found myself warming to him and feeling for his plight throughout the film. The setting he finds himself in is also quite impeccably realized, as the building and all of its apartments have a wonderfully character, and the decimated streets below remain as haunting as one might hope.
There are a few runtime-padding missteps in the film, including a lengthy sequence in which Rocher decides that he has to lie to us in order to advance the story forward (I understand the appeal of fantasy in these survival situations but, much like in Adrift earlier this year, there’s a way to do that which never feels manipulative or cheap, and Rocher doesn’t), but on the whole, this is an incredibly interesting film for fans of the zombie genre to seek out. Indeed, one could see The Night Eats the World as a metaphor for heartbreak — as one feels alone and isolated in the throng after a particularly bad break-up, assuming on a base level that they’re the only person who feels and has felt this way — and despite a few complicating factors, this is the interpretation that I keep returning to. Even his cruelty to the zombies (who mostly just stand in the street and rot) and a spoilery surprise later in the film fits this interpretation well enough, until the ultimate resolution of the film puts it plain that the only way to survive is to advance. It’s occasionally gorgeous stuff, and marks a fascinating debut for Dominique Rocher stateside.
The Night Eats the World is currently in theaters and on VOD.
Featured image by Alisa Bunting via Blue Fox Entertainment.