OVERLORD

SPOILER WARNING!!! 
 
As it’s difficult to really talk about this film without getting into the minutia of it all, there will be major spoilers for Overlord ahead. If you haven’t seen any trailers and know absolutely nothing about it, then just click away and go check it out! It totally seems best to go in blind. 
 
Again, massive spoilers below! You’ve been warned.


 
I have a little TV that gets access to local stations on my desk at work. One of the channels I like to watch is the substation Comet TV, a channel that plays nothing but schlocky sci-fi, horror, and Japanese monster films 24-7. It’s one of my favorite channels to watch because of all of the awful production values, poor writing, and laughable acting. With some rare exceptions, a lot of these films are bottom of the barrel. For example, if it’s a horror movie about a bunch of kids encountering demons in a remote cabin, you’re going to get 90% of kids wandering around the woods with only 10% of horror action at the end. The funniest thing of all is that some of these terrible films end of inspiring future filmmakers. This time, though, the future filmmakers may actually have some talent up their sleeves. 
 
Overlord follows a group of American soldiers dropping into Nazi-occupied France in the midst of World War II. Their objective is to take down a church where the Nazis have set up a radio tower, which will prevent air support from assisting the Allied ground troops during the Normandy invasion. The soldiers are able to find their way into the church, but they make a gruesome discovery: the church actually contains a secret underground lab where the Nazis are performing human experiments. These experiments are leading to super soldier Nazi zombies, who could potentially help Germany turn the tide of the war. Well, it’s time for the squad to not just take down the radio tower, but take down the laboratory as well. 
 
I love it when a film mashes two genres together and there’s two ways the filmmakers can go with it. You can either make it known from the first frame that you’re going to be mixing genres, or you can let come as a surprise later on. One of my favorite films, and quite possibly the most famous example of a “genre switch” in a movie, is From Dusk Till Dawn. What starts off as a grounded, twisted Quentin Tarantino crime drama devolves (in a good way) into gory vampire schlock. I unfortunately knew about the twist before watching that, as I did with Overlord, but that didn’t lessen the impact or fun for me. The pacing of the film is deliberately slow in the beginning, with the soldiers not encountering the more horrific stuff until an hour in. Up until that, though, it’s a gripping war drama following a group of soldiers as their mission grows more and more deadly. 
 
Each soldier is completely different, all with fully formed personalities, director Julius Avery and writers Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith making sure we actually cared about them all. Wyatt Russell (son of legendary Kurt Russell,) and Jovan Adepo are our leads, both with different methods of carrying out their work. It’s here where a lot of the themes are explored, such as the cynical and hardened Cpl. Ford (Russell) soldier contrasted with Pvt. Boyce’s (Adepo) more idealistic and naïve soldier who just hopped into battle. I wish these themes could have been explored more, but the fact that we get them in a movie that ends up getting so silly is more than welcome. There was a lot of room for character growth for them to show their range and while Russell may not be as suave as his pops, he’s got the chops. The other soldiers are a lot of fun, but once you get attached, they could soon be swiftly killed and the characters carry on, just like nothing happened. You really feel the brutality of war in every moment. 
 
It’s of course easy to root for the good guys when they’re fighting Nazi’s, but them completing their mission is all about developing their characters and exploring the film’s themes about warfare. The climax of the film had characters fighting a man missing half of his face, but I was glued to the screen, hoping they would complete their mission. The film takes itself 100% seriously, but that’s one of the reasons why it, and other B-movies, work so well. They know exactly what they want to do and tell the story their own way. Since the first half is practically a war drama, you’re following these characters through the battlefield, Avery perfectly putting you in the middle of the action with chaotic camerawork and visceral sound design. The explosions are booming, bullets sound like they’re whizzing right by your ears, you can almost feel the chunks of an exploding heads coming at you. It totally turns into zombie schlock at the end, but the technical prowess and character driven screenplay that investigates how war effects different people makes this a true, blue (or red) war flick. 
 
There are some B-movies that take themselves far too seriously and don’t know how to have any fun. Well, this one made sure to do both. Once Pvt. Boyce discovers the Nazi experiments in the church, escapes, then relays this information to Cpl. Ford,  is when the film goes completely balls to the walls crazy. They’re able to revive one of their fallen soldiers with a serum made by the Nazi’s, but he quickly degrades into a zombie-like state and they’re forced to kill him. Now that they know what they’re dealing with, it’s time to go in and take the tower down. It really felt like an ode to those old low budget films, where they only had enough budget for some action at the end, so everything else is just people walking and talking. They even reused a shot of somebody torching a zombie with a flamethrower. With Overlord, though, it’s actually good and serves a purpose along with the action and horror. Nazi Germany had been known to do some horrific human experiments, so to see some of these things be put on screen was truly unsettling. Being on a battlefield is also a terrifying experience, never knowing if the next step you take could be your last. We don’t just feel the horror of dealing with the unknown and strange, but also the simple horror of being on the battlefield, never knowing if your next step could be your last. 
 
That’s why Overlord mostly works. It has everything a war drama fan could ask for, and everything a horror schlock fan could ask for, all mixed up into one bizarre package. Since the trailers straight up spell out the fantastical premise, I was expecting nothing but bloody, Nazi zombie silliness. Well, I certainly got that. What I wasn’t expecting was a compelling war film with fully realized characters who I cared about, all with some thematic depth to explore the effects war has on them. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights in the silliness or creativity department, this is From Dusk Till Dawn for the new generation, as far as I’m concerned. I’m perfectly fine with that too. We could use more stuff like this.

One more thing: I’m so happy this didn’t end up having any stupid connection to the Cloverfield universe this was initially rumored to have. With this and A Quiet Place both initially being rumored Cloverfield films, and both being excellent films in their own right, it’s time to let just let this pathetic Cloverfield anthology series die and let original films flourish.
 
9/10 

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