It just goes to show – whenever you think your night couldn’t possibly get any worse, the apocalypse will always prove you wrong. In Dominique Rocher’s 2018 French zombie drama La nuit a dévoré la monde, the mild horror of a socially awkward evening gives way to a truly terrifying and inescapable nightmare in what seems like the blink of an eye … or, at least, a few a Zzzs.
Talented musician Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) stops by his ex-girlfriend’s lovely Parisian apartment to pick up a box of his cassette tapes, only to find that she’d neglected to tell him about the party she was throwing that night. He angrily imbibes a little too much as she spends time mingling with her guests and ignoring him, and winds up falling asleep in her office while the party rages on just outside the door. He wakes up the next morning to find the spacious flat trashed and blood-spattered, his ex and her friends transformed into flesh-eating ghouls robbed of conscious thought. As the days and weeks go by, Sam must eke out a desperate life for himself in the apartment building which is now effectively his prison. Held hostage by the roaming undead killers outside, he’s left to grapple with his own thoughts and the all-consuming isolation of being, perhaps, the only human left alive.
Waking up to the zombie apocalypse has become a well-worn (if still enjoyable) trope over the years–see: Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie masterpiece 28 Days Later, Zack Snyder’s enjoyable 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, and AMC’s The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, for example–but the recent nature of the outbreak and its ongoing chaos in the first few scenes allows for a great sequence wherein Sam watches a series of zombie v. human situations unfold in the streets below him, as well as through the windows of the building across the lane. His helplessness in these moments is palpable, as is his despair in a following sequence when he raids the coats and purses of the now-undead part guests and listens to the heartfelt and terrified voice messages left by their loved ones. A touching funeral scene organized by Sam is a particular standout, and a wonderful demonstration of bare-bones character-building (no pun intended).
Anders Danielsen Lie is very, very good in this. He has to be, as probably 90% of the film’s 94-minute run-time rests entirely on his shoulders. His wholehearted and compelling performance carries the film, even in the many scenes focused solely on the banality of survival. On that subject, Nuit is a great way to pick up strategies for the coming apocalypse; like Rod Blackhurst’s excellent Here Alone (2016), much of the first act is concerned with small acts of strategic survivalism, as Sam performs the necessary tasks that comprise the successful navigation of a deadly new status quo — clearing your vicinity, gathering supplies, and dividing up and recording your inventory.
Jordane Chouzenoux’s cinematography conveys well the bleak and oppressive isolation experienced by Sam; this particularly effective in lingering overhead shots. Sam’s loneliness is underscored by the extremely minimal score and sound design (and the necessarily scant dialogue throughout). This is a very deliberate zombie film, more psychological horror than action (although it does feature well-executed and judiciously-timed gore).
Like 28 Days Later and Yeon Sang-ho’s fantastic Train to Busan (2016), the zombies in Nuit are of the swift variety – you’ll find no shamblers here. Great SPFX makeup and a disturbingly twitchy physicality amps up the tension and provides some great chills. Overall, Nuit is a refreshing and thoughtful offering; its perfect balance of pathos and thrills marks it as a more-than-worthy addition to the zombie subgenre.
Score: 8 out of 10 abandoned drum kits.