A film review by Craig J. Koban November 20, 2018


2018, R, 108 mins.


Pilou Asbęk as Wafner  /  Jacob Anderson as Grady  /  Wyatt Russell as Ford  /  Bokeem Woodbine as Eldson  /  John Magaro as Tibbet  /  Iain De Caestecker as Chase  /  Jovan Adepo as Boyce  /  Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe 

Directed by Julius Avery  /  Written by Billy Ray




OVERLORD is like an EC Comics/Weird Science tale come lovingly to life.  Its plot concerns a bunch of American soldiers that are dropped in behind enemy lines before D-day and make some ghastly discoveries of Nazi scientific experiments that have re-animated dead soldiers, with the end result resembling what's essentially zombies.  

In many respects, OVERLORD is kind of a nice companion piece to, say, Quentin Tarantino's historically sketchy INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, which also had a field day mixing fact and fiction in its WWII setting.  OVERLORD wears many genre hats: It's part men on a mission action thriller, part war film, part revisionist historical drama, and, yes, part ultra gory zombie apocalypse horror flick.  The film really represents a hodgepodge of divergent tones, but director Julius Avery and producer J.J. Abrams craft an affectionately sleazy B-grade grindhouse sci-fi/horror film that also just happens to be entrenched within the more sobering real world terrors of the allies facing off against the Third Reich.  I also found it fiendishly intense and thrilling alongside being handsomely produced and thanklessly well acted.  

Plus, it's an awful lot of giddy fun. 

The film has an absolutely spectacular opening sequence, during which time we see our motley grew of American grunts have their plane being shot up to literal shreds while flying high over France, forcing all of them to prematurely parachute out to escape the fiery wreckage in the sky (more than perhaps any other moment in the film, Avery shows here just how technically proficient he is at unleashing a sequence of frightening spectacle and scale on a relatively modest budget).  The mission of this squad is simple:  Infiltrate a Nazi stronghold that's also doubling as a radio station, blow it up, and then allow for the rest of the allies to sneak in undetected for a surprise ground invasion.  Unfortunately for them, only a small number of them survive the plane attack and their jump down towards the ground. 



Of those left are the film's main protagonist, the relatively noble minded Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the tough as nails and take no prisoners explosive expert Ford (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt and doing a relatively good job impersonating some of his father's better known action film parts), the wise-assed Tibbet (John Magaro), as well as a few others.  They manage to find their way into an occupied French village and seek secret refuge with one of the locals, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), and they all end up relying on each other to see through the demolition mission towards successful fruition.  After they capture a high ranking Nazi leader (a reptilian Pilou Asbaek) they use him for some Intel that grants them access to the aforementioned enemy radio tower, but then during a subsequent survey of the stronghold the squad makes a terrible discovery: The Nazis have been reviving their dead solders in hopes of making "Thousand Year Soldiers" to never lose any future war, but with some body and mood altering side effects that essentially make these souls undead and unthinking monsters.  The Americans soon realize that they have an awful lot more to fight to blow that tower to smithereens.   

The trashy eccentricities of OVERLORD are hard to overlook, but that's a large part of the film's infectiously macabre charm.  The notion of a bunch of square jawed American soldiers facing off against a whack of Nazi scumbags and zombified Nazi super soldiers is the stuff of pure comic book fare, but OVERLORD fully and unapologetically embraces its pulpy extremes.  Rather satisfyingly, though, OVERLORD takes its time before getting to the brain splattered monster mayhem and does a respectable job of embedding viewers in its period settings and introducing us to the character dynamics.  This slow build up approach may make hardcore horror fans squirm with impatience in their theater seats, but I for one appreciated this calm before the storm approach.  Plus, OVERLORD doesn't emerge as, for example, yet another one of those frustratingly enigmatic J.J. Abrams mystery boxes to be opened and decoded (more thankfully, this film is not another uninspired and vague CLOVERFIELD universe tie-in/spin-off).  Instead, we're given a hard-R rated, balls to the wall orgy of sensationalistic violence that delivers on a pure level of blunt force trauma.  Overall, the frank unpretentiousness of OVERLORD is a big plus. 

Avery is a good cinematic ringmaster for this caravan of the bizarre and morbid, and in particular he crafts stalwart characters that are developed perhaps a bit finer that what other lesser horror films would have afforded.  There's also an sincere attempt on his part - despite the madness of the story's premise - to ground the film in a dramatically and historically authentic war film that looks and feels of its specific era.  OVERLORD is patient showing the evolution, for example, of the soldiers growing to work within a trusting group dynamic with the young French resistance fighter, who passionately shares the American's hatred of all Nazi vermin.  I also admired this character for not being used with delicate hands or behind reduced to a mere damsel in distress that requires saving.  She gets her hands just as blood soaked and dirty as the men here, especially in a gnarly scene involving her incinerating one very nasty Nazi zombie with a conveniently placed flame thrower.  There's simply never enough of those around when you really need them.

This leads, of course, to the film's dynamic and savagely violent third act, which wholeheartedly delivers on the story's promises of the soldiers squaring off against these Nazi beasts in dark subterranean laboratories while also trying to succeed in their larger mission of blowing up the radio tower.  The art direction, staging of action, and overall production and makeup design here are gloriously realized, especially the latter element, which portrays these zombies with bravura practical makeup that emphasizes maximum ferocity and bloodthirstiness.  CGI effects are kept to a welcoming and refreshing minimum, and that's in tune with OVERLORD's low budget friendly midnight movie mood, not to mention that Avery and company get seriously creative in throwing everything but the kitchen sink in this climax.  There's a (looking at notes) bomb rigged motorcycle, multiple firefights and fistfights, some judicious usage of a gooey Nazi serum on the living (both good and bad) that is usually used to resurrect the dead, as well as mass explosions, impalings, incinerations, decapitations, and one hellishly nasty looking zombie monsters with half of his face blasted off that makes life very difficult for all.   

All of this is wickedly enjoyable, not to mention expertly paced and intensely well edited.  And the actors are quite great as well, especially Asbaek as the main SS officer villain in a role that's pure soft spoken malevolence, as well as Adepo playing his inexperienced recruit that's seriously, seriously in over his head as the rookie that discovers the nightmarish scientific experiments that propels the second half of OVERLORD forward.  As a good old fashioned war movie and viscerally disgusting horror flick, Avery's film is one of multiple sinful delights.  It's a low rent exploitation genre exercise/mishmash done with A-grade proficiency and polish.  If you want to see a film featuring rough and rugged men of honor and valor squaring off against damn, dirty Nazi bad guys...and even more damned and dirtier Nazi lab created abominations...then OVERLORD is definitely for you. 

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