Film Review – Overlord
It’s been a pretty darn good year for horror. That trend continues with Overlord (2018). Directed by Julius Avery and co-written by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, the film has no interest other than pushing the B-Movie, action/horror limit for utmost entertainment. The story: a squad of American paratroopers parachute into occupied France at the start of the D-Day invasion. Their mission is to penetrate a Nazi-controlled village and take out a radio station located in a church so that Allied forces can provide air support to troops storming the beach. What the soldiers don’t anticipate is that below the church is a hidden bunker, where Nazi experiments are turning humans into super-powered, gruesome monsters. Obviously, that makes things all the more complicated.
The narrative does not have any time to mess around with character development. The opening scene has the soldiers onboard an aircraft taking heavy fire as they prepare to make their jump. Each character we meet is painted with the smallest strokes of personality. Ford (Wyatt Russell) is the commander of the group, walking and talking in tough guy clichés – he’s seen and done things that exist only in legend. Sharp shooter Tibbet (John Magaro) comes from the northeast. With his heavy New York/New Jersey accent, Tibbet constantly yaps his mouth, verbally pushing around other guys to test their resolve. In the first half, he’s easily the most annoying character. And then there’s our main protagonist, Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a private who got his notice three months ago and now finds himself in the middle of a war he’s unprepared for.
This is all that we get to learn about our characters. Avery’s direction and Matt Evans’ editing swiftly hurries the plot from their initial landing, nighttime traversal toward the village, and their discovery of what is inside that Nazi bunker. Along the way, we get plenty of opportunity to see them take down Nazi scum. In terms of cinema, Nazis have provided the consummate antagonist, always available for us to root against. Here we get one of the nastier ones we’ve seen in awhile with Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), an evil brute who’s sole motivation is to cause as much pain and agony to anyone not part of the “Final Answer.”
If the character development is thin, what exactly keeps us interested in what happens to these people? A part of that answer comes from the dynamic between Boyce and Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) a French villager who lets the Americans hide in her home. Chloe has felt the wrath of the Nazi occupation first hand; trying to stay strong for what family she has left. Boyce gravitates toward this, and while their connection is not romantic, we get the sense that the two meet on an equal level with their hatred toward the Nazis. That element works all the better when Chloe picks up a gun and joins the squad in their mission.
But enough about all that. You’re probably here to find out how good the horror is, aren’t you? Well, dear reader, it’s safe to say that you will walk away fully satisfied with the amount of blood and guts you’ll get here. The make up and gore effects are easily the main attraction, and Overlord doesn’t disappoint. Even though the camera relies too heavily on nauseating hand held shakiness (the parachute scene is a mess of incomprehensibility), the depiction of the “monsters” more than make up for it. There’s an old-school, mad scientist vibe going on. The bunker, with its strange machinery and weird contraptions, call to mind the sets and props from Frankenstein (1931). The “experiments” are conceived with what appears to be a combination of practical make up and CGI effects, allowing bodies to twist and bones to break in odd angles. Seeing someone transform is gruesome but strangely impressive.
If there’s one thing to take away from all this, it’s that Avery and his team simply wanted to make a fun experience where the good guys take on the bad guys with unrelenting glee. Yes, this is overly violent, and parents with young kids should steer far away. But for those of you who are of the right age and enjoy a good midnight movie with plenty of body horror, then this is right up your alley. Want to see Nazis get shot in the face? Step on up! Want to see a badass chick take down monsters with a flamethrower? You’ve come to the right place! No, this isn’t the gonzo event that advertisements are making it out to be, but it definitely commits to an attitude that is commendable.
Overlord is not the best WWII film ever made. Neither is it the best horror film ever made. But it somehow balances the two sides well. As crazy and ridiculous as it gets in the second half, not at one point did I think that it lost its focus. It sets out with a specific goal in mind and doesn’t waver from it. This is a good example of how the success of a film isn’t based on “what” the story is about, but “how” it’s told.