31 Days of Hell: The Night Eats The World (2018) Reviewed

French director Dominique Rocher’s introspective zombie film, based on the homonymous novel by Pit Agarmen, opens with electronic music that is subtly reminiscent of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) soundtrack, as if to subliminally indicate the road it will venture into.

To revisit the 28 Days Later/Last man on Earth trope, of an isolated man who is apparently the final survivor of a zombie plague, Rocher drops Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie), a French/Norwegian musician, at his ex-girlfriend’s apartment in Paris, during a party. As he avoids the scene and looks for his left-behind belongings, Sam locks himself in a room and falls asleep. The following morning he wakes up to find an empty place with blood spattered walls and a city in ruins, abandoned… except for the corpses that walk the streets attacking the last few survivors left, as they try to escape.

Upon first impression, it seems like just another piece of the same old, same old, reanimated-corpses –versus-survivors story, with Paris as a backdrop being the only variation upon the theme. 

Fortunately, Rocher has a better plan (and source). Far from focusing on the usual fare of gore and violence, his intention, as in Romero’s saga of the dead’s best moments, is to delve deep inside human nature and upon an individual’s reaction to an extreme situation.

Just like in “Dawn of the Dead”, Sam tries to adjust and slowly “normalize” his life. Shut inside the building, rationing the food he gathers from empty apartments, making music with household utensils and confessing his thoughts to one of the infected (Denis Lavant), which he keeps locked in an elevator.

As the world outside crumbles, life for Sam becomes a safe routine that eerily mirrors our current way of life and the level of complacency we have reached as a society. Every day and in multiple ways, the world as we know it is being dismantled, ravaged around us, and, as if nothing were happening, we go about our lives, somnambulists holding a small rectangle in front of us, repeating the same actions, again and again, blind to the apocalypse that surrounds us.
During one of his monologues, Sam realizes reality has shifted, and that the concept of normality in relation to human existence depends solely on the point of view. “Being dead is the norm now. I am the abnormal one”, he utters to his dead “friend”.

Belonging to a collective hive mind, with a sole instinctive governing act, infinitely repeating the same actions, to the edge of madness. Is that what we call normal? Rocher asks.

Through an unexpected plot twist, Sam is confronted with his newfound lifestyle and his inevitable adaptation to his surroundings. His fall into comfort. A possibility of transforming his situation makes him question his stagnation and pushes him towards facing his crushing fear of change.

In a genre that has been, in the last couple of decades, over-exploited ad nauseam, Rocher takes a risk, with a quiet, artistic and philosophical vision that eschews cheap clichés, to expose the truly horrifying issues (apathy, conformism, solitude) of a society, that has become a pathetic parody of itself, lacking humanity, condemned to mechanically repeat itself, and conformed by desensitized individuals that wander the world, savagely devouring each other.

Manuel Ríos Sarabia