Directed by: Julius Avery
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Written by Nick McCann
Often war movies will make it a point to show the horrors of war. Yet there doesn’t really come to mind wartime-set horror fiction. Sounds like potential gold in those hills, crafting stories preying on the grizzly sights of global conflict. Leave it to J.J Abrams and his high-flying mind to tap into that for a moment. Originally conceived as part of the curious “Cloverfield” lineage, this old-fashioned slice of bloody entertainment finds itself entertaining on its own coattails.
What could’ve easily been non-stop Nazi zombie slaying action (ala most “Call of Duty” games) surprisingly takes a more subdued approach. Its commitment to the World War 2 aesthetic gives way to equal amounts of bombastic intensity and grounded suspense, itself having twisted inspiration. Whether the Nazis themselves or the monsters they create, there’s a genuine creep factor mixed with the throwback thrills of a 1970s Grindhouse film! This is the kind of film that knows what it is, balancing the fun with the weight it needs to be bought into.
With its war movie influence comes a distinct band of characters. Everyone feels appealingly realized, sometimes with simple but enjoyable arcs. Wyatt Russel is a definite highlight, completely channeling his father, Kurt, with a commanding intensity. A couple of his moments feel straight out of Kurt’s classics. Pilou Asbaek gets under your skin as a sadistic Nazi, Jovan Adepo lends a likable sentiment to all the violence, Mathilde Olliver holds her own among savage soldiers and John Magaro cracks wise with a sniper rifle. Everyone puts in the effort for their roles, rarely leaning into stereotypes or irony.
Its look also has plenty of bite, mostly thanks to spot-on production design. Locations have a rugged aesthetic while costumes are authentic down to the last detail. The grime doesn’t stop there “Overlord” goes full bore on ultra-violence, with action that has large amounts of punch and size. An opening plane sequence is nothing short of memorable and there are a fair share of gun battles where Nazis die horrifically. In addition, the couple of monster scenes that are here delightfully favor practical make-up for maximum gross factor. The MVP of the whole show has to be the sound design, between booming firefights, howling monsters, and an eerie score by Jed Kurziel.
There is such a fun vintage genre movie feel to the point where seeing occasional grainy film scratches wouldn’t be entirely out of place. If you weren’t sold by the AC/DC-infused trailer, you might not be on board. Personally, “Overlord” hits all the right notes. It’s wicked good fun that actually works to flesh out its concept when it could’ve easily taken the easy way out.