Many of us went into the screening for “Overlord” referring to it as “The Nazi Zombie” movie, a description many are likely to adopt. To do so is a disservice. This is also, contrary to popular theories, not the next “Cloverfield”. And although it’s a Bad Robot project, J.J. Abrams did not write or direct it. Instead, a relative newcomer, Julius Avery, helms this ambitious thriller.
“Overlord” takes place over a single night, on the eve of D-Day. A squadron of paratroopers has been sent behind enemy lines to take out a radio tower that the Nazis have placed on a church. Their mission is crucial to the success of the Normandy invasion and by the time they arrive in the small French village, they only have a few hours to spare. What’s surprising is just how well this movie works as a classic WWII story. The opening sequence aboard the transport plane lands squarely between the first battle sequence in “Edge of Tomorrow” and the beach sequence in “Saving Private Ryan.” Kinetic energy and impressive camerawork fuse together creating one of the most pulse-pounding intros I’ve seen in a while. After this initial burst of excitement, the movie settles into a more steady pace. As tension begins to mount, so does the weirdness. Too many movies jump right into the “strange” but brilliantly this one allows the uncertainty and horror to fester. Eventually, the horrors of war give way to the horrors of Nazi Experimentation and the movie dips into pure, gruesome insanity.
It’s easy to compare aspects of this film to many others. Movies such as “Dead Snow” and video games like “Wolfenstein” and “Call of Duty: Zombies” immediately come to mind. The plot itself is derivative of countless other WWII movies. But, the magic in a film like this is not what it borrows from, or remixes, but how it does so in a fresh and thrilling way. “Star Wars” and “The Matrix” are both lauded as iconic films, but their plots are a casserole of pre-existing stories. The stories they told were old, but the way they did so was unique.
As the film enters the madness of the final act, it would be easy for it to go off the rails into pure farce. The heightening (almost extreme) gore is balanced with a number of wonderful fan-service moments. I struggle to think of another film that has used so many Chekhov’s Guns in rewarding payoffs. Once the horrors are revealed, practical effects are used almost exclusively. The realism of creatures and gore that is actually present makes everything far more tangible than what we are accustomed to seeing these days. The creative camerawork showcased in the opening segment continues to impress. It moves smoothly and with purpose, revealing the main characters and what they see in deliberate 270° movements. If Steven Speilberg and Michael Bay had a love child that was kept on downers, this is what it would look like.
“Overlord” is polished, smart, and delightfully gory. Regardless of how it does at the box office, it’s destined to become a cult favorite.