Overlord review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Overlord is by far the best Nazi zombie I’ve ever seen. Okay, so that might not be the biggest bar to cross but consider how everything could’ve gone wacky with this picture and that the result is a film with a tongue firmly in cheek. It takes itself seriously with a gritty, gory, and intense edge to create a film with a convincing warzone and a terrifying dungeon of inhuman experiments. The blending of the brutality of war and monsters creates the WWII horror picture I never knew I wanted.
For the first half of the film, Overlord plays itself straight as a war picture. We come to know a company of American paratroopers on the eve of D-Day, tasked with taking down a German radio tower. The few who survive the explosive ride down include the fearful Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and the bloodthirsty Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell). They drop into a French village and try to keep a low profile, especially after over half their landing troops were slaughtered upon arrival. Boyce wants to maintain stealth and a commitment to doing right, while Ford can’t help himself from using a captured Nazi as a punching bag. The Nazis they are fighting are the ruthless kind, their hobbies including gunning down civilians in the streets and raping women when they’re all alone.
Up to the point where Boyce secretly breaks into the tower, it’s a gritty and engaging war movie. But then Boyce discovers the Nazi’s secret lab of hideous and frightening experiments and the film takes on a different sort of grit. The Nazi experiments are genuinely gross and creepy, showcasing mutated men and women that have had parts removed, including arms and spines, still kept alive and begging for death. Nazi Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) will be one of the first to try out the latest serum that grants the ability of super strength and to regrow skin. Sure comes in handy after you’ve been shot in the face and bloody skin is hanging off your jaw.
Part of what makes Overlord so much fun is that there doesn’t feel like there’s an insistence to be winking at the camera. Nazi zombie romps tend to be pretty goofy but director Julius Avery keeps everything on the straight and narrow while still being action packed. The opening sequence of exploding planes is just as frightening and epic as the scene where a zombified Wafner brutalizes soldiers. The film still has its fun but doesn’t add extra jokes. You don’t need a lot of extra nudging to fully enjoy when Mathilde Ollivier goes from fearful French villager to flamethrower wielding warrior and incinerator of monsters.
I was impressed with how a film such as this manages to find a meat and potatoes vibe to its tale of war and horror, throwbacks and originality, camp and earnest. It’s almost subtle in how much it holds back from going full-on grindhouse giddy with its violence, holding back most of the nasty gore until the ultimate smackdown of American versus Nazi. That being said, it doesn’t waste a single blow towards its climax which goes the extra mile to make the action more brutal than cartoonish. And for that the film is able to be a fun romp without spoon-feeding the absurdity of it all to the audience. Overlord has set a very high bar for the Nazi zombie subgenre, small though it may be.