Julius Avery’s Overlord – fatigue-green pulp torn from Wolfenstein video games and sinister sci-fi abominations – delivers *almost* exactly what the words “WWII Nazi Zombie Movie” dare to suggest. Shades of The Thing, Re-Animator, and countless hardcore horror influences mystify sledgehammer-heavy “grunts and grit” military warfare. No sacrificing “one or the other” when it comes to Saving Private Ryan tactics vs. slobbering 28 Days Later speed chases once Bill Ray and Mark L. Smith’s screenplay faces its ultimate breaking point. A massive, bloodcurdling, mangled-faces-and-exploding-heads reach to boil that’s always building. Always seething. Always ready to jump headfirst into (heavy) action.
For a movie that promises Nazi mad scientists and their creations lurking the halls of some creeptacular abandoned church, Overlord packs a superhuman punch that’ll leave a gaping cavity in your chest.
In Avery’s world, the story of D-Day includes a ragtag group of American soldiers who encounter the Third Reich’s secret pet project. As Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) regroups with his surviving squadron members, those who successfully landed a hasty parachute drop, their objective remains the same – topple a single radio tower preventing Allied aircrafts from reaching Normandy’s beach. Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) assumes control and marches the remaining men straight to Hitler’s doorstep. Unfortunately they’re met by Dr. Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), secret orange serums, and far more reanimated corpses than any war dog should ever encounter.
What I’ll repeat is how Overlord is so *very* close to being the exact big-budget, B-movie extravaganza any preconceptions might imagine. As Ford hatches his parish infiltration plan, we spend an extended stretch of time inside rebellious Chloe’s (Hélène Cardona) home/attic. Not, during this time, with the ravenous monsters. Her American-obsessed little brother provokes the best out of John Magaro’s straight-outta-New-Yawk wiseguy, but overstaying proverbial welcomes causes us to wonder *when* the chaos will erupt. Still jammed with ample gunfights, Nazi barbarism, and Wyatt Russel being a tough-as-gristle champion, but just meandering enough to turn our hunger into momentary starvation. “Act Two” takes its time, maybe just a little too steadily.
Now to the good stuff.
Avery’s dark-as-midnight blend of WWII set pieces and Lovecraftian nightmare amalgamations punctuate balance suitable for fans of either subgenre. Leaking blood, discarded guts, chunks of facial flesh, open wounds exposing rows of teeth and chewed-up muscle tissue, detached heads pleading for help (spinal column visible) – all hard “R” material. Sometimes such devotion translates to lesser combat presence (Frankenstein’s Army), but Avery’s Speilbergian battlefield intensity is rip-roaring sensational. Opening minutes feature Boyce and company’s in-flight B52 banter before anti-aircraft blasts start popping clouds around them, powerful and absurdly exciting once the vessel turns into a nosediving inferno. Sound design highlights the loudness of rifle blasts as war’s spectacle violently thrusts unprepared, scared young men onto the frontlines of hostility unparalleled. This is a horror film, no question, but boogeymen aren’t always needed to promote terror.
While shoddy CGI gore is often a complaint when writing about mainstream horror films, Overlord sidesteps such criticism. Squeamishly frightful post-production touches don’t fail Pilou Asbæk or Iain De Caestecker from disjointed neckbones to gaping bullet hole craters (oh, you’ll see). Jumbo needles slowly pull from quivering POWs strapped to stained hospital gurneys. Hand grenades shoved into mouths? Bashed cranial leftovers? Mutated test zombies with claw-like appendages as in Resident Evil 6? Either Avery strikes a forgiving balance between practical and digital SFX, or someone’s digital warehouse deserves a thumbs-up from the entire genre community. Overlord makes good on its promise to be a sick and gnarly exploitation flick once permitted, rubber zombie incubation sacks included.
Credit to acting here, as Russell assumes the position of badass enlister whose mission commitment comes off tough as rawhide. The demolitions expert who’s platoon transfer brings rumor of commanding officer shootings. Ford’s savage, stone-faced, and packs a brass-knuckle punch from someone who ain’t got time to bleed. Russell doesn’t come to mind when dream casting militant madmen, but Overlord makes you question why. A blank expression on his face that teeters between insanity and cutthroat “professionalism,” morality lost in a smoking world of complete destruction.
Adepo’s take on Boyce is typical yet engaging “boy becomes a man” type character growth, not as funny as Magaro’s constant jokester or out-of-water as De Caestecker’s jumpy photographer. Bokeem Woodbine doesn’t have a large role but lands some sweet “Sarge” lines like “I said I’d show you ladies a good time” as artillery punctures their steel transport plane and privates puke. Hélène Cardona proves she can handle her damn self and doesn’t require protection from her new American friends when she’s got a fully-tanked flamethrower. And Pilou Asbæk? While I disagree with the film’s icky sexual abuse arc towards Chloe to assert how evil A HIGH-RANKING NAZI is, everything else Asbæk brings to Dr. Wafner is next-level undead berzerker rage. Performances fall into rank all around, tight and overmatched just as they should be.
Overlord isn’t Call Of Duty: Nazi Zombies…The Movie, for the better. Thunderous WWII recreations are every bit as impressive as Axis bioengineered inhumans that’d make Stuart Gordon blush. Don’t expect zombie waves out the gate, and Julius Avery does take his time to weaponize Hitler’s “Thousand Year Army,” but patience brings reward. Supernatural knuckle-dusting, large-scale French production designs, demented investment into a concept torn from genre fan dreams – this is why horror fans go to the movies. Bold ideas, blackened execution, and a fighting spirit that spits at enemy feet.
With Nazi zombies.
/Film Review: 8 out of 10
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