A grisly film that lives in the darkness and has all the heart of a video game, Overlord probably isn’t going down as a classic because it doesn’t have that wide appeal. It’s a bit of a chore to get through, at 110 minutes, and its meandering storyline takes too many detours. It is, however, a war horror film — a rare bird. War is horrific enough, so a horror movie inside a war movie is quite metal. And Nazi bad guys are always fun. Overlord just misses somehow.
Everything in Overlord is amped. The direction, by Julius Avery is manic. Avery was behind the 2015 heist thriller Son of a Gun, and Overlord is similar in overcooked style and little substance. However, the style definitely fits the horror genre better where less substance is more acceptable. You just need some depth so we invest in the characters. Overlord is more about looking like a scary movie then telling a scary story.
The plot follows a group of paratrooper survivors who are tasked with destroying a radio tower in Germany on the eve of D-Day. But when they get to their target, they find horrid experimental Nazi zombies with super strength, and the Nazis themselves who are arguably even worse. (Game of Thrones‘s Pilou Asbæk plays an SS Hauptsturmführer and he’s a wild animal, the scariest threat in the movie.) As the men try to complete their mission, they find themselves in a nightmare of maniacal proportions.
Overlord is especially good at the end, when all hell breaks loose. But it’s a redundant ride getting there. After the soldiers land on the ground, it takes them forever to get to the tower. This time is full of cheap scares that add zero to the story and make little sense later. It’s too bad the plot is so lunk-headed because everything else is done well.
What’s most impressive about Overlord is how it looks. This is a gory Twilight Zone episode full of gnarly injuries and body horror. Imagine Captain America: The First Avenger gone very wrong. The effects are authentic. The production design is brutal, talk about “war is hell,” especially the underground laboratory. It’s like something out of Bosch. And the costume design is essential. Getting Anna B. Sheppard was a coup. She worked on Schindler’s List.
Amongst the cast, Jovan Adepo is a future star. He turned heads in Fences, as Denzel Washington’s son, and Overlord is another solid film to add to his resume. Asbæk is a revelation. (Jacob Anderson aka Grey Worm also has a small role.) And Wyatt Russell continues carving out weird personalities in movies. He’s one of the most versatile young actors around.
There’s plenty to like about Overlord, but don’t expect to be overwhelmed by its script. Veteran Billy Ray wrote it with Mark L. Smith and it pivots on a great idea — war horror Nazi experiment thriller. But characters are why we love movies, and these guys are just running for their lives most of the time. It would’ve been nice to get to know them a little, or one of them at least.
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