Starring: Jovan Adepo (Fences), Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street), Mathilde Oliver (The Misfortunes of Francois Jane), Pilou Asbaek (Ghost in the Shell), John Magaro (The Big Short), Iain De Caestecker (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Director: Julius Avery (Son of a Gun)
Writers: Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant)
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
Release Date: 7 November (UK), 9 November (US)
The concept of Nazi zombies is hardly an original one. Movies, TV shows, and especially video games, have already made the undead Third Reich a popular mash-up of two of pop culture’s most common adversaries. Overlord brings the concept into the blockbuster space, giving the ridiculous B movie premise the sense of scale and grandiosity of an A grade war flick. The result is a movie that’s certainly entertaining enough, but one that falls short in almost every area.
Overlord sticks to the basics of the classic man-on-a-mission army narrative, with the well-established mission of our ragtag team of heroes constantly impeded by increasing odds and, well, eventually the undead. On a story level, there isn’t anything too surprising to make Overlord stand out. The film is solidly structured and incredibly well paced, with the near two-hour runtime flying by breezily despite ample downtime. However, there are no real surprises or unique twists to either the war or zombie tropes it is playing with(unless somehow you didn’t know this movie had Nazi zombies in it, at which point I’d ask why you are even here). The film plays it straight as a serious action WWII flick for the first half, with only the excessive gore making it stand out; even then, it’s not that much bloodier than something totally serious like Hacksaw Ridge. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the movie took a From Dusk till Dawn-style turn once the horror elements come into play, but the film’s tone doesn’t shift much after this reveal. It never goes far enough with its zanier elements, making it hard to embrace the ridiculous carnage of the third act when everyone is playing it so straight.
The characters of Overlord don’t stray far from their typical archetypes much either. You’ve got the sensitive rookie, the battle-hardened tough guy, the sarcastic pessimist, the naïve cameraman, the helpful French villager with a kid to protect; you know all these characters and where they’re going to go pretty much from frame one. Luckily, from a performance perspective the actors manage to give these stock characters some life. Jovan Adepo makes for a compelling lead as Private Boyce, and it’s refreshing to not only see a person of colour lead a WWII film without it being made a big deal of, but also a greenhorn protagonist who isn’t forced into the “learns to become a real man by becoming a badass killer” mould. Wyatt Russell channels his father’s gruff stoicism more than ever here as Corporal Ford, though the script fails to give him much of a reason behind his near-sadist tendencies beyond “war is hell”. The rest of the main supporting cast is fine enough, playing their stock roles effectively without ever particularly surprising, but the clear MVP of the film certainly is Pilou Asbaek as the villainous Nazi officer Wafner. Straddling the line somewhere between Hans Landa and Red Skull, he’s the only actor who seems to be gunning for that B-movie absurdity the film is sorely lacking in. He’s constantly a delight to watch, and I wish the movie gave him more to do throughout.
On the technical front, where Overlord most impresses is in its effects work. Less so the computer effects, which are generally solid with some noticeable flaws; for example, a thrilling freefall sequence early on is marred by some obvious compositing and digital shaky cam. Here, the practical effects reign supreme, and they perfectly balance that line between authentic and scary. There’s a fair amount of gore and disturbing imagery on display here (just about enough to warrant that 18 certificate in the UK), and though none of it feels like anything you haven’t already seen if you’ve played enough video games, it’s still impressive seeing these haunting creatures brought to life in a mostly-practical manner. The action in general is solid if a little unremarkable, again never quite going far enough with the bombast to truly stand out, but there’s more than enough to ensure the ride is never boring.
Overlord is a fine enough action horror flick, delivering the gore and guns one would want from such a picture. However, it never goes far enough in any category to make it particularly remarkable. The storytelling is snappy but lacks originality, the characters are well cast but never overcome their archetypes, and the action is suitably entertaining but never to an overwhelming degree. The film would have been better served as a ridiculous grindhouse B movie, but the slickness of its execution has removed much of that potential charm. It’s perfectly fine as is, but it could have been so much more if it just embraced the inherent ludicrousness of it premise.
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10