Full of Nazis getting shot in the face, Julius Avery’s not-a-Cloverfield-movie (thank god), Overlord, might be the feel-good movie of 2018. It’s also a violent, rapid-fire, predictable-but-entertaining delve into one of my favorite sub-subgenres of horror, the Nazi zombie story.
On the eve of D-Day, a handful of American soldiers—primarily Boyce (Jovan Adepo, Fences), Ford (Wyatt Russell, Everybody Wants Some!!), Tibbet (John Magaro, Carol), and Chase (Iain De Caestecker, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)—parachute behind enemy lines for an important mission. There they team up with a local, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), find the Nazis up to some seriously evil business, even for Nazis, and must take down the especially dickish Nazi officer, Wafner (Pilou Asbaek, Game of Thrones).
Overlord is pure pulp grindhouse fare that knows exactly what kind of movie it is. Not in a wink, wink, nudge, nudge way, but in a way that delivers precisely what fans of this type of horror film want. The script from Billy Ray (The Hunger Games and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) doesn’t waste a second on superfluous elements like backstory or character development. Take Ford, for example, he’s a new addition to this unit, he has one job, and has obviously “seen some things” the others have not. And that’s it. Or Chloe lives in this village with her little brother and her aunt. End of story.
We know what we need to know in the moment and the rest doesn’t matter. Early on, another soldier, Dawson (Jacob Anderson, Game of Thrones), yaks about home and how he’s writing about all of this, only to explode into a bloody mist a moment later. It’s as if Overlord wants to drive home, right out of the gate, that anything and everything outside of the immediate purview of this specific tale count for naught.
This lean, stripped-down approach serves Overlord well. From the opening scene in a plane as a bunch of nervous kids prepare to parachute into Nazi-occupied France, it’s a dead sprint to the finish that rarely pauses to breathe. When the tempo does slow, it’s not for long, and Avery and company light the fuse quickly to keep things moving. This perpetual motion has the benefit of allowing the viewer to skip and glide over the slight story and stock characters and instead wallow in the gory action. (It does, however, also gloss over many of the creepier aesthetic elements in favor of pace.)
That’s really all Overlord has going for it, but it’s enough. The action is strong, there’s blood enough to sate horror fans, and Jovan Adepo, while not exactly lighting the world on fire with his performance, makes the unproven Boyce empathetic enough to shoulder the weight of the familiar soldiers-on-a-mission narrative. Think Inglorious Basterds-lite by way of Re-Animator. It’s bloody, it’s mean, the Nazis get theirs, and though it’s not something to ever think of again, it’s a damn fine dip into throwback exploitation, especially in a dark theater with a hyped up crowd. [Grade: B]