Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier
Directed By: Julius Avery
Running Time: 110 Minutes
UK Release Date: Out Now
BBFC Certificate: 18
When Overlord was announced many speculated if this would be another Cloverfield anthology film, as it’s another obscure low-budget movie produced by JJ Abrams. Thankfully it’s not connected (unless there is a universe aligning Easter egg that I missed). This is pleasing as a shelved film called God Particle had additional footage shot and poorly edited in to become The Cloverfield Paradox (2018), thus linking it to the franchise to negative effect, which is a shame as I like the concept of its original incarnation.
For those who don’t know the basic plot of Overlord, it is about a squad of American Allied troops shot down over France hours before D-Day, who encounter a group of Nazis that have been experimenting on reanimating the dead. Yep, it’s a World War 2 movie with zombie Nazis.
This isn’t a new concept by any means but this film is entertaining and balances the shift in genre from a tense war film to a zombie horror remarkably well, while maintaining a coherent tone.
It hits the ground running with the troops waiting to parachute out of a plane (which, like many things in this film, doesn’t go exactly to plan), and the first 45 minutes creates a feeling of dread and horror as young men are in a foreign land, outnumbered, surrounded, and where death can come at any time; akin to well-crafted war films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998). The zombie element is introduced slowly and feels grounded, and the film doesn’t have an unexpected shift in genre such as in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Thankfully it doesn’t stray into B-movie or video nasty territory, despite being a low budget film full of gore and violence.
But what struck me as I was watching it was that this film felt like a computer game. I haven’t played the Wolfenstein series (1981 – ongoing) but have heard that there a similarities in the plot. I have however recently been playing Resident Evil 7 (2017) and the whole atmosphere of the film felt familiar. The film has scenes that play out just like moments in computer games. For example, we have a stealth mission, an escort mission, a creepy underground base with lots of tunnels, a boss and an escape reminiscent of a level from Goldeneye (1997).
I don’t know if this was intentional by the filmmakers, but computer games have been becoming more cinematic over the years and of course elements of different types of media tend to blend with one another. This is by no means a bad thing as there are many fans of atmospheric survival horror games and war based shooters, who also enjoy movies.
The film as a whole is focused and the few main characters integrate well with each other having clear arcs, backstories and motives, and despite what they face during the films runtime it felt like just another day for these soldiers. We have archetypic characters from different ethnicities and religions, but they are working together to complete their mission against the odds and different types of evil. They don’t come across as mere fodder, unlike the Nazis (which is no surprise to anyone), but this is an all-American war movie with several American clichés and stereotypes, but it never goes over the top or takes away from the general dark and horrific tone of the movie.
Of course there are several laughs and the odd unexpected moment and jump scare, and the great sound design helps enforce these moments, especially in the film’s opening scenes. What the movie is effective at is showing both the horror of war, and incorporating the generic tropes of a horror film, building suspense and tension throughout.
The cinematography is also very good, at least in parts, with several ‘one take’ tracking shots. However, the jumpy editing in some of the films fist fights is jarring and lessens the impact of the punches, which is odd as we see far more graphic violence from the result of guns and knives. Without doubt this is a very violent and gory film with some great effects and action set pieces. It deserves its 18 certificate and a reviewer at the press screening proclaimed it as ‘horror porn’ and stated that ‘you wouldn’t want to sit in a dark room with someone who paid to see something like this’.
It’s always important to listen to other opinions, but there have been films full of gore, torture and brutality since the advent of cinema, becoming more noticeable in the slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s and certainly with the like of the Saw franchise (2004 – ongoing). But every film should be taken on its own merit and you can’t please everyone. Overall I enjoyed this film for what it is and this is the sort of film that will appeal to fans of action and horror movies.
Overall Verdict: Overlord is a tense, gory and unrelenting World War 2 horror film, which felt in many parts like a computer game hybrid of Resident Evil and Call of Duty. With a film like this you know what to expect, and it delivers a fun and entertaining experience without falling into B-movie territory.
Reviewer: George Elcombe