*. It took a while, but with The Night Eats the World the zombie apocalypse goes back to its roots, by which I mean Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. Yes, George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead is still the origin of the modern movie zombie, but the narrative template was really set with Matheson’s story of plague vampires, which was later filmed as The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and finally in 2007 under its original title.
*. I say The Night Eats the World goes back to Matheson for one simple reason: it’s the story of a lonely sole survivor of the apocalypse. I have a hard time thinking of other zombie movies like this. They all deal with small groups of survivors, never people on their own. So at least in that respect The Night Eats the World is something different.
*. One night at a party Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) locks himself in a room and goes to sleep, only to wake up to find that pretty much everyone is dead and zombies have taken over Paris. Luckily he twigs to what is going on right away and goes into survivor mode, barricading himself in the apartment and then scavenging food from elsewhere in the building. He even gets quite domestic, scrubbing the floors and donning rubber gloves to clean the place up.
*. Safety and food, however, turn out to be the least of his difficulties. Once they are provided for he gets lonely, and that way madness lies. At one point he tries to get a cat, but the finicky feline prefers the company of the undead. This leaves him with a zombie trapped in a cage elevator to talk to, and lots of solo drum sessions that seem to mimic masturbation.
*. The film’s focus then is not on gore. There is little of that, and if you’re expecting to see a zombie feast you’ll be disappointed. Nor is it a movie that ever feels like it’s going anywhere. It just stays in park for 94 minutes.
*. It’s a movie almost entirely without dialogue except at the beginning and end, but one that plays a lot with various aural cues. The zombies themselves are totally silent, not even making groaning noises, but bumps in the night are magnified. And Sam, a musician, makes music out of various household items. We get the sense that this is as important to Sam as food.
*. A common criticism (from audiences more than critics) was that nothing really happens and that it’s boring. I’ll go along with this part way, but I think it’s a movie that actually has something interesting to say about our experience of time. In such an isolated state time has less meaning. Our interactions with others, or even just our environment, is how we measure time. It’s significant that we’re never sure in this movie just how much is passing. Has Sam been cooped up in the building for a week? A month? Six months? We aren’t told, in part because I don’t think he has any idea either.
*. I can give it a qualified recommendation. It’s a somewhat fresh take on the zombie genre, which I would say had already passed its peak a decade earlier. At least the premise — if not the individual elements, which are very familiar — is not something we’ve seen a hundred times before. There is, however, no real point to the story beyond what it means to be the last man on earth. As Sam comes to realize, being alive makes him the freak in a post-apocalyptic world. The zombies are the normal ones. This is a message that’s latent in much of the zombie genre, but here it’s presented as just a depressing reality. A final pan across the rooftops of Paris reveals an urban desert.