Band of Brothers meets Resident Evil. There’s your high-concept pitch for Overlord. Or maybe it’s “A black man, a woman, a Jew and some cynical American GIs walk into a top-secret Nazi lab…” That description may sound flippant, but it’s not inappropriate for a crowd-pleasing genre-bender that is equal parts schlock horror, war drama and B-movie actioner. Blending the three elements not only creates a bloody treat (if you relish that sort of cinematic smoothie) but by embracing the big screen trend of marrying horror with historical settings, it injects new life into the rundown zombie concept. Quite literally.
Throughout, Overlord keeps itself lean and mean. There’s no overworked plot explanations or character development delivered via dialogue dumps that grind the movie’s pacing to a stop. A few sentences here or there are all you need to establish the story and its main players.
In short, a unit of American paratroopers is dispatched to France on the cusp of D-Day to destroy a German radio tower. With planes shot down and botched landings behind enemy lines, the mission is tough enough even before our heroes – including principled-but-timid Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and battle-hardened explosives expert Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, FYI) – discover the same communications facility is housing horrific Nazi medical experiments. A thousand-year Reich needs hardy, thousand-year soldiers after all.
Whether focusing on the brutal wartime combat of our reality or veering far into body horror territory, Overlord is a visceral thrill ride. Mainstream horror movies in recent years have largely shifted their focus to bloodless, slow-building atmosphere. Overlord, by contrast, is all about the gore and intensity dialled up to a 10. Watching it, you’ll probably find yourself thinking of genre predecessors like The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, Wrong Turn 2, 28 Days Later and Get Out.
Overlord is scary, disturbing, funny, occasionally heartfelt, and definitely gratifying as an injustice-correcting revenge fantasy. The fact that it manages to balance these elements so well is an especially big accomplishment when the movie sounds like straight-to-DVD trash on paper. Relatively unknown, but award-winning, Australian filmmaker Julius Avery has achieved something very surprising, and his efforts behind the camera are supported onscreen by a cast of newcomers who still easily win over audiences. Although his performance is more grandiose than those of his co-stars, special mention must go to Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk, who adds to his list of boo-hiss villains by playing an SS officer here.
The only time that Overlord pulls its punches is when it comes to socio-political commentary – although certain audience segments are likely to appreciate this fact. Oddly colour-blind, with not a single character commenting on it, Overlord never touches on Boyce’s experiences as an African-American drafted into the US forces for WWII. The Nazi flag is also curiously absent, replaced with obscure insignia (excluding prevalent SS iconography) in the same way that Captain America: The First Avenger always prioritised the Hydra logo over its notorious real-world counterpart.
Speaking of Captain America, another selling point of Overlord is that it includes what’s essentially a hard R-rated battle between Cap and Red Skull.
Ultimately succumbing to predictability, Overlord doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts. Still, it’s always loads of armrest-clawing fun. There’s also a very good chance that the movie will develop a cult following over time, so now’s your chance to catch it on the big screen (including the bigger IMAX screen). Highly recommended if you still have leftover Halloween cravings.
Last Updated: November 9, 2018