REVIEW: Overlord

The soldiers should have just taken their chances at the Winchester…

Upon the eve of D-Day, a squad of American soldiers pass through enemy lines to eliminate a Nazi radio transmitter, only to find said base to be a front for more sinister Nazi operations.

Ok guys, not everything J.J. Abrams is involved in is a Cloverfield movie… not every project the man produces has its conclusion completely contorted with space monsters and threats of intergalactic invasion. Instead, with the release of Overlord, 2018 has gained a heavily entertaining, gory and chilling feature film, for which reviews World War Two horrors through zombie-fest extravaganza in such B-movie grime with A-level quality.

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(Peter Mountain / Paramount Pictures, 2018)

One of the best feelings in the world (well, other than getting married, having children, graduating from school or university, reuniting with loved ones, getting your first pay cheque, Christmas time or just, quite plainly, “The Business”) is seeing a Hollywood film that’s actually original – plus, it’s a massive bonus when its good. Overlord was that original gem I have been waiting for. The film never dragged or provided ‘boring’ moments; Overlord took its idea and ran with it, right up until the cows not only got home, but had their showers, brushed their teeth and jumped into bed. From the opening title cards being reminiscent of a Tarantino practise to provoke nostalgia of the Hollywood Golden Age, Overlord really sold itself on what it was and was trying to achieve… and that was, what I noted before, a serious commitment to B-movie vibes and exploitation selling points.

If you’re unaware of what B-movies or exploitation films are, the short answer would be that B-movies were the second, low-budget films played in a cinema double feature following the screening of a more financially profitable and crowd-pleasing film. An exploitation film, otherwise known as grindhouse, would be a cinematic effort that, you guessed it, would ‘exploit’ certain elements of culture such as niche genres, modern trends and, well, the “dirty dirty” stuff. Overlord bathed in all things schlocky and grainy. The film could easily operate on some level of cult status as it exploited the most niche of genres, that being, the “zombie apocalypse with Nazis in World War Two” genre… you know, that classic genre. Overlord was a great watch because it never betrayed its style or tone, nor did it try too hard to be bigger and more explosive than it should have been. Overlord knew it was the kind of film that played after the A-level, large-scaled CGI blockbuster-fests and, furthermore, knew, in it would be more memorable for what it was.

What Overlord was, was bloody. Do not, by any circumstances, try watch this film if you know you have a weak stomach. Overlord drenched the screen in blood and gore to crazy limits with faces flying off, knives coming into play and blood spraying left, right and centre. However, for that, I have to again applaud Overlord for its ballsiness and commitment, as, you will find, not many zombie movies in modern day cinema commit to such horrific aspects – and neither do war movies. In fact, the mixing genres of war and supernatural horror complimented each other so much in Overlord that the film would, at points, evolve into a fascinating retrospective on horror in wartime.

As Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now said, “the horror… the horror”, Overlord tapped into said quote deeply. Now, I may just be reading into this more than I necessarily need to, but that’s what I do, so let’s get real wanky for a second and just say it how it is – the zombies in Overlord were a metaphor for the horrors of war. Ok, that’s me proving my university degree for another review; now let us get back onto the base level stuff… no, but seriously, Overlord is smarter than you think. It has been the task of many filmmakers over decades to translate the horrors of war through new and inventive methods with every war film made – Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick installed psychological horror into Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, Steven Spielberg magnified the humanity of the characters in Saving Private Ryan in order to make them more horrifically vulnerable and Mel Gibson just intensified the gore in Hacksaw Ridge. And, granted, all films I just listed are genius, artistic cinematic achievements, but I praise the filmmaker who manages to translate the essence of horror through literal, visual horror that common audiences can find instant terror in.

Not to discredit filmmakers like Coppola, Kubrick, Spielberg and Gibs- (oops), but sometimes certain stories deserve fresh and imaginative takes. Overlord really sold the concept of war as this destructive machine made to dehumanise people, as it would furtherly and quite literally transform human beings into cannon fodder – into meat – into the living dead. Soldiers back in the day, and even now in some cases, were used as almost nothing but cannon fodder and, as an extension, a body to throw towards the enemy. Don’t get me wrong, I respect every man, woman and child who gave their lives to the war efforts of World War Two and other wars, but the way war has, in history, managed to dispose of so many lives in such small bouts of time, marks the idea that soldiers were very much treated like meat – as disposable as a corpse. For many soldiers, their lives ended before they even stepped off the boats or jumped out the planes as if they transitioned from lively beings into, well, the living dead. The utilising of a zombie outbreak as a means to explore themes existentialism, bloodshed and transience in war really worked for so many levels; not only allowing for a thematically rich and prominent take but also just to entertain on some chilling levels because, who doesn’t like a good zombie movie?

It’s a shame though that the film really did not feature enough zombies. Overlord worked in layered mystery and foreshadowing, all leading up to the first sighting of a zombie… but even then, the whole “mystery element” and slow burn of a waiting game the audience were forced to sit through stretched on for a bit too long. Overlord could have been shorter and more to the point. When the zombies eventually did show up, the pacing moved quicker and the narrative became more engaging. Also, on the topic of zombies: when you go to make a zombie movie, novel or whatever, what needs to be established first and foremost are rules for the zombies and how they operate. In Overlord, there never felt like there was any order to how zombies functioned or how they could effectively die or their powers or their general capabilities. I felt the rules and laws of this universe were very loose and hard to follow, as an essence of believability was lost in Overlord, leaving it ever-so slightly less entertaining than it could have been.

Usually I would complain about how the characters were all underdeveloped and not that interesting, although in Overlord I felt that that was kind of the point. Other than a civilian, portrayed sweetly by Mathilde Ollivier, the leading men soldiers in Overlord all felt rather plain in their character’s arcs and such. Yet, if we were to go off my theory that Overlord was actually about how war dehumanises men to become nothing less than meat with no real identity but just a hunger for bloodshed, like a zombie, than I have to conclude the filmmaker’s intention may have been to make the characters appear equally like nothing more than faceless hunks of meat hunting blood… like zombies. Still though, the cliché character archetypes the movie did recycle through with for its leads, including the hardened general, the avid photographer, the manly New Yorker, the timid rookie and such and such, were pretty basic to say nonetheless – despite two great performances from Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell.

Come the end of the day though, I have to admit I really liked Overlord. It may not be the greatest film to come out of 2018, but director, Julius Avery, and writers, Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, really ensured Overlord be a special watch. Dripping with potential for future cult film status, Overlord really sold itself on the hard-to-watch, vomit inducing horrors of war and, you know what, just the enjoyment of zombie action.

If all else fails for you on a thematic level, at least you have an extremely solid zombie film to fall back on – which is rare, nowadays. My advice going into Overlord: do not get a popcorn or a raspberry soda for your viewing experience… I mean, unless you want to be a zombie and drink icy blood with hot, buttery little brains… I mean, its your choice, you sicko.

Overlord is a bloody… CRUSADE!!

 

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