Overlord; The Video game waiting to happen.

Overlord seems to know exactly what it is and basks in it. Yes, this is a B-movie produced and takes place a day before D-Day in which we follow American soldiers battling Nazi zombies in WWII. Sounds about right. But despite some underdeveloped subplots and some obvious B-movie tropes, Overlord goes above and beyond the duty with a riveting main plot that digs far deeper than you expect from a Nazi Zombie movie.

In the J.J. Abrams-produced film, Julius Avery takes the real-world horrors of Josef Mengele’s WWII Holocaust experiments to a more terrifying,mundane, albeit sensationalized extreme: the Nazis have developed a special serum to reanimate their dead. With the decision of either picking up deceased,rotting troopers off the side of the road or simply kidnapping and murdering the french locals, the German army has weaponized the villagers to take their quest of world domination to another level. The sinister premise sets the stage for one of the more surprising third acts in film this year.

The film follows a no nonsense Corporal(Wyatt Russell) dropping behind enemy lines on the day before D-Day alongside his newly assigned squad of soldiers with a single goal; blow up a secret radio tower to help clear the skies for Allied air support. Anti-aircraft fire leaves the squad down a few men(to say the least), but the survivors gather together and scrap together the explosives they need and head to the small French village that’s home to their target(which is conveniently at a church). Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is the freshest face and holds the purest heart among them, and as this is his first mission he’s also as disgusted by the violence as I was(but im sure he didn’t enjoy it as much as I did). They come across a young local scavenging named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier),but an ominous discovery jeopardizes the mission in ways that you wouldn’t expect.

Private Boyce acts as the film’s conscience, is silent and terrified for almost the entire film. He almost failed out of boot camp because he was too timid to kill a mouse — no seriously a mouse. Long story short he captured a measly little mouse that liked to leave droppings in their tent and chose to set it free, rather than kill it-which his army mate Tibbet berates him for the majority of the film. When their commander (Bokeem Woodbine) commands, “We have to be just as rotten as they are,” there’s a sense that screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith intend to use Ford’s violent tactics to test how far audiences will support a good guy character who willingly uses torture. But the Nazis are so cartoonishly evil that there’s never a debate: These blonde, big-cheekboned fiends must be stopped by any means necessary.

The result plays like a mashup of “Inglorious Basterds”, “Call Of Duty Blackops,” and the video game series “Wolfenstein.” It’s an exhilarating ride through the tumultuous life of a WWII soldier, amplified by its boisterous sound design, and grounded by intimate, personal performances by Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell. The movie’s gorgeous imagery show the considerable talents of the movie’s two credited cinematographers, Laurie Rose (Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” and “Free Fire”) and Fabian Wagner (“Game of Thrones”), who capture the scope of a mission into enemy territory with a realistic edge and no shortage of visual effects. The result merges the harshness visceral qualities of wartime with the scope of the battlefield.

Early talk of the film being an entry in producer J.J. Abrams‘ Cloverfield extended universe thankfully never come to fruition here, but there’s a whole lot of the war left after the end credits roll meaning a follow-up wouldn’t be out of the question. It would be an easy franchise to get behind too as its genre pieces are fit together extremely well. While teases of something supernatural rear their head the film’s focus in the first half is the good fight against a very human evil, and by the time the truth arrives we’re already invested.

Director Julius Avery shoots the hell out of his set-pieces, establishing a strong sense of style early on (Boyce’s fall from the doomed plane is a highlight), and he sure doesn’t hold back on explosions.

The strongest criticism I can lobby at Overlord is that it seems reluctant to fully commit to the monster bit, wavering between B-movie glory and a straight up soldier story. There are flourishes of fabulously gnarly practical effects and disturbing mad scientist designs but only tastes, never a whole meal. The film also plays pretty fast and loose with the rules of its sci-fi wonders — or perhaps more accurately, it never fully establishes them in the first place, making new revelations and reveals feel flimsier than they should.

Ananth Para
paramana@mcmaster.ca

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