Let’s be honest, there’s nothing bad about seeing some Nazis get slaughtered on film.Whether they’re terrorising our heroes in blockbuster fare such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inglorious Basterds or occupying more serious narratives like Schindler’s List and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Nazis are constantly reoccurring villains in film. Overlord takes the Third Reich and throws zombies into the mix. Produced by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, many believed this would be the fourth Cloverfield instalment—but Overlord is a whole different beast.
We follow a group of American Para-troopers the night before D-Day who are tasked to dismantle a German radio tower atop of a church. They’re set to parachute into France and find their way into the small village, which has become a German stronghold, but after their plane is shot down we’re left with rookie Boyce (Jovan Adepo), accompanied by the grizzled Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), fast-talking sniper Tibbet (John Magaro) and war photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker). In the village they encounter a young French woman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who lets the soldiers stay in her attic. Our soldiers then encounter sleazy Nazi officer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) and even more sinister goings on in an underground lab.
An immediate soft-spot is granted to this film for being directed by Perth’s own Julius Avery. It’s great to see a local filmmaker gain recognition through someone as well-known as J.J. Abrams. Thankfully, he’s delivered a well-directed film to boot which melds genres and tone quite well, especially as the tone is a real balancing act considering the heightened nature of the story. It was imperative for Avery to create a film that doesn’t play it one hundred per cent serious, and it definitely doesn’t.
As well as having to balance tone, Overlord also delves into many different genres. It’s an effective war film, most notably in the fantastic opening sequence. It’s certainly schlocky in nature and Avery doesn’t skimp on the gore when the body horror elements are pushed to the forefront in the film’s second half. And the madness continues in a well-executed “man versus monster” battle in the third act. Avery also delves into more conventional horror at points with a couple of jump scares—which, thankfully, aren’t false and are only used minimally. This film definitely works at its best when it embraces bombastic action and gruesome body horror.
Screenwriters Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) keep characterisation to a minimum. It’s certainly not one of the more subtle scripts, as characters are relegated to stock archetypes and dynamics. We’ve got the stern underdog hero, the roguish sidekick, the motormouth comic relief, the vulnerable yet strong woman and the moustache-twirling Nazi officer. Chloe’s aunt has been disfigured due to the Nazi experiments which could’ve been an emotional plot point, but Avery and Ray know the audience want the silliness—and we certainly get that! However, some of the dialogue can resort into cliché territory; there’s obviously a character who exclaims: “Can somebody please tell me what the fuck is going on”. It’s never enough to drag the film down though, especially considering its B grade movie concept.
Even though the characterisation is thin, we have performances to elevate these stock archetypes. Russell has established an acting career which differs to his father Kurt’s (most known for 22 Jump Street and Everybody Wants Some!!) but here he slots into his father’s action hero persona with ease. Ollivier is a standout as Chloe and I was convinced Magaro was about to morph into Joe Pesci as the film’s fast-talking comic relief. Asbæk sinks his teeth into a physically demanding villain role which he executes with just the required amount of over-the-top pomposity.
Where a large chunk of this film’s praise should go is to the makeup department, as the zombies are very effective and the practical makeup is melded extremely well with CG elements.
Overlord doesn’t hit every beat perfectly. It takes too long to get into the meat of the zombie action and the script is lacklustre, but Avery embraces the inherent silliness of the concept while delivering a film which works as a very solid war-horror film overall. Everything, from the concept to the scenarios our characters are placed in, feels like it’s straight out of a video game—whether it’s trying to avoid a landmine, finding an innovative way to enter a top-secret facility or to simply staying silent to avoid a Nazi. It’s certainly a better video game movie than all actual video game movies Hollywood has produced. It won’t be for everyone, but original genre films like this one from home-grown talent should always be supported and embraced.
Overlord is out in Perth’s selected cinemas now.