Cloverfield fans had their fingers crossed when Bad Robot Productions released the first trailer for Overlord. Unfortunately, Overlord is definitely not connected to the Cloverfield universe. Perhaps even worse, The Cloverfield Paradox is stil a thing. Regardless of its lack of connectivity, Overlord promises wall-to-wall zombie goodness. Though it didn’t connect with audiences in its opening box office weekend, critics have largely praised this zombie-revisionist take on WWII.
On the eve before the Allies’ D-Day Invasion of France, Nazi forces shoot down American paratroopers behind enemy lines. Only a handful of soldiers survive to continue their mission – destroy a radio tower in a Nazi-fortified church. But when the U.S. troops infiltrate their target, they discover that the Nazis have been conducting bizarre experiments on the French villagers. Now their mission is jeopardized by Nazi efforts to create a true ‘1000 Year’ solider.
Overlord Largely Succeeds With Its War-Zombie Fusion
If Quentin Tarantino could do it with Inglorious Basterds, why can’t J.J. Abrams. Based on a screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, Overlord is part war film, part zombie horror. The two disparate film genres are effectively weaved together in a fun revisionist WWII story. In fact, Overlord’s first half is a damn good piece of war movie-making. The opening assault on the Allies’ planes is absolutely thrilling. Director Julius Avery excels in the movie’s first half at maintaining a consistent sense of tension and stakes. Even as just a war movie, Overlord is an engaging, if not entirely familiar, piece of filmmaking.
…Avery maintains a consistent tone throughout the movie, seamlessly blending traditional actions and horror elements together.
As Avery slowly introduces horror elements, the story-telling transition runs fairly smoothly. Horror fans will undoubtedly be familiar with the ‘Nazi zombie’ concept. Peter Cushing did it in the 1970’s with Shock Waves. More recently, Norwegian horror-comedy Dead Snow had fun with a similar premise. Conversely, Overlord may throw off non-horror fans with its narrative shift. Fortunately, Avery maintains a consistent tone, seamlessly blending traditional action and horror elements together. Overlord is certainly never boring, and the horror doesn’t really overwhelm the second half of the movie.
More Zombies, Please
If Overlord comes up a little short, it’s in the actual zombie department. That’s not to say that director Julius Avery fails to include or execute the movie’s more traditional horror elements. What Avery commits to the screen in Overlord is an absolutely worthy addition to the zombie genre. Overlord patiently doles out its zombie gore and effects in initially small doses. The effect is to build your anticipation, and it works. A few well-timed jump scares similarly serve to fuel expectations. When the first full introduction to the Nazi zombie happens, it’s a fun balance of gross-out body horror with a nice undercurrent of humor. A later scene with a fully-realized ‘Nazi zombie’ is an absolute nail-biter.
Avery is arguably a little too restrained in the climax.
Instead, Overlord’s only real weakness is that it may leave a little too much on the table. Truth be told, I was expecting (and hoping for) more over-the-top zombie carnage. Avery may actually be a little too restrained in the climax. Overlord builds so much anticipation that it can’t help but feel like a bit of a let-down. Aside from Pilou Asbaek’s Wafner, the film’s central antagonist, the ‘Nazi zombie’ concept almost feels unexplored. The premise has so much potential. What we’re shown is so intriguing that one can’t help but wish that Overlord would have let loose a little more.
Familiar Characters Given Some Life by a Game Cast
If you’ve watched a war film before you’ll likely recognize the characters. Overlord’s screenplay doesn’t take many risks, largely relying on stock narratives to tell its story. There’s the green private who’s never killed anyone along with the hardened veteran. You even have the ‘Italian from Brooklyn’ stereotype. Yet it spite of some formulaic storytelling, the cast is uniformly excellent. Jovan Adepo, as Private Boyce, is outstanding with the limited material. His performance adds a human element to what’s a wildly crazy premise. Simply put, Adepo gives you someone to care about amidst the onscreen carnage.
Wyatt Russell and Mathilda Ollivier similarly overcome flimsily written characters with better than expected portrayals. In particular, Ollivier, as the lone woman surrounded by a lot of male swagger, stands out. She invests her character with a believable emotional resolve. Pilou Asbaek has fun chewing scenery as Overlord’s main villain. Even John Magaro is largely able to cast off the stereotyped characterization with which he’s saddled to deliver some fun and humour.
Overlord Will Find Its Audience Someday
Overlord disappointed in its opening box office weekend. Audiences apparently aren’t ready for zombmie WWII stories. Weekend box office data strongly suggest Overlord will struggle to recoup its budget. Nonetheless, Bad Robot Productions’ WWII zombie flick should have a bright future as it likely grows into a cult favourite. This is exactly the kind of fun horror film die-hard fans are likely to enjoy. It’s big, loud, fast-paced macabre mayhem that never takes itself too seriously. Do yourself a favour and check it out.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-