It seems that, whenever the world enters a state of political chaos, filmmakers revisit the zombie subgenre. There’s something endlessly delicious about an apocalypse caused by the mass of people around us, many of whom we’ll never know - they might as well be monsters. Unfortunately, most of these offerings wind up as either Z-grade trash or pretentious rambling. Dominique Rocher’s The Night Eats the World is the latter - though not aggressively or miserably so. It may not mine its premise as it should, but her naturalistic approach adds a stately and intelligent atmosphere to the derivative story.
Russo starts and ends with the same character, the same apartment building, which is besieged by the walking dead after a party. The sole survivor locks himself in the apartment building and awaits rescue or destruction. Most of the film is concerned with this waiting. It isn’t as boring as it sounds - Rocher is a skilled enough director to keep the film from feeling amateur or lazy. Deliberate, naturalistic camerawork that pushes muted color tones, adding to an overall atmosphere of autumnal dread. The makeup is as vivid and copious as it needs to be without being overbearing. The zombies don’t rely on wild acrobatics or spilling guts to be grotesque - restrained sound design does the trick.
In spite of the silence-driven filmmaking, which could convince some viewers that the story was detached, the beats feel rooted in emotion. In fact, the long periods of quiet make the bursts of sound or violence more effective. The camera sometimes holds on corpses for a moment too long, just to make you doubt. For the low-key drama that the film is at heart, there are plenty of frightening moments to relish.
It’s not exploitational or pulpy, either. The characters’ actions are practical, in a way, even compelling in spite of their grimness. The film spends plenty of time exploring the minutiae of survival in this world. The plot takes longer to stagnate than one might expect, but it does eventually. The script doesn’t have the poetic gusto that it needs to carry the concept; and the protagonist, considering that we spend the whole film with him, could have been more compelling.
It’s the bleakness that makes it feel detached - a crutch of all post-apocalyptic movies, which are inherently depressing. The realist style requires bleakness, though, in order to remain true. The experience leaves one wondering why we need to engage with this kind of bleakness right now - a nihilist conundrum that the film is very much aware of. The plot that unfolds doesn’t transcend it, though. Like most films of its kind, it’s rather fatalist, but its dark exploration of these tropes doesn’t have anything new to tell us. Without a unique set of rules or nuanced dramatic concept, the film mostly feels like an exercise in mundane survival.
With that in mind, The Night Eats the World is still a nice piece of moody, contemplative horror storytelling. It’s a bit like Michael Haneke lost a bet and had to make a zombie film. The result might work for October afternoon, when the liminal atmosphere causes us to muse, what would I do if I was stuck in a nightmare? The answer remains as distant as the possibility, perhaps for the best. This film and others of its kind belong to a form of masochistic escapism. But even that serves a purpose, if only to make us wonder.
Movie Score: 3/5