A psychological study in the cloak of a zombie movie, the French-made “The Night Eats the World” is an engrossing little tale of what isolation and impending doom do to the mind.
The Danish actor Anders Danielsen Lie stars as Sam, a Parisian who just wants to get his tapes back from his ex-girlfriend, Fanny (Sigrid Bouaziz). He goes to her apartment, where a party is underway, and she tells him to go into a back room to wait for her. He falls asleep there — and when he wakes up, he finds the walls splattered in blood, and hordes of zombies are in the streets and the stairwells.
Sam manages to lock up the doors and barricade himself from the living dead, who only attack when they see movement or hear loud noises. So Sam learns to be stealthy, as he forages for supplies from the other apartments in the building, and figures out how long he can hold out before having to evacuate.
Director Dominique Rocher, who adapted Pit Agarmen’s novel with co-writers Jérémie Guez and Guillaume Lemans, focuses much of the action on the different ways Sam learns to survive the boredom and isolation of his makeshift fortress. Activities include turning kitchen supplies into percussion instruments and shooting a paintball gun at zombies in the street.
Sam also traps a zombie, formerly a professor who lived in the building, in the elevator — and he becomes the equivalent of the volleyball in “Cast Away,” something that Sam can talk to and maintain his sanity. The elevator zombie is portrayed expertly by the great French actor Denis Levant (“Holy Motors”).
Late in the film, Sam gets an unexpected visitor (played by Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani), but by then Sam can’t necessarily trust his sanity. (Despite the French setting and director, and the international cast, the movie is in English.)
Danielsen Lie, who played a drug addict in Joachim Trier’s 2011 drama “Oslo, August 31,” has the tricky job of keeping our interest for nearly an hour by himself. His performance encapsulates the range of Sam’s emotions, from existential terror to random boredom, and holds our attention. “The Night Eats the World” isn’t above borrowing from other zombie movies — the frenzy of “28 Days Later” here, the dark humor of “Shaun of the Dead” there — but it does so in an engaging way.
★★★ (out of four)
‘The Night Eats the World’
Opens on Friday, July 13, at selected theaters — including the Tower Theatre in Salt Lake City. Not rated, but probably R for violence and gore. Running time: 90 minutes.