UK Release Date: 7th November 2018
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Julius Avery
Writer: Billy Ray, Mark L Smith
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro, Dominic Applewhite
Synopsis: A seemingly routine operation to shut down a Nazi radio tower becomes very dangerous indeed when they discover that the Germans have been experimenting on dead bodies.
Way back in 2015, a slick and entertaining crime thriller called Son of a Gun barely made a blip in British cinemas. This was despite the fact the film is an enjoyable tale of violence and surrogate father figures, starring Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander, who was very much the flavour of the month at that time. Someone who clearly did enjoy that film, though, is JJ Abrams. He hired that film’s debutant director Julius Avery to make his splattery war film Overlord, in which Nazi medical experimentation leads to zombie madness and bonkers splatter.
It’s the war movie element of the story that Avery immediately throws at the audience, starting the action with a deafening and immersive aerial dogfight that is skilfully helmed and immediately sets the tone for the wild action to come. The audience’s entry point into the hell of war is an American paratrooper squad being sent into a small French town on the eve of D-Day in order to take out a radio tower that is crucial for the Nazis in calling air support that could scupper the Allied offensive.
When the dogfight ends badly for the Americans, a small band of survivors attempts to complete the mission on foot. In charge is Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), who is determined not to deviate from their assigned objective, even when Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) discovers that the church upon which the radio tower has been built is actually concealing something very sinister. Led by the unhinged, villainous Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), the Nazis are experimenting on dead bodies, converting them into super-strong and hyper-aggressive zombie soldiers.
It’s a B-movie setup, and one approached by Avery with exactly the right balance of silliness and a straight face. Thanks to a nimble script by Billy Ray and Mark L Smith, the movie works as a lean, mean wartime horror in which flesh hangs off bones and arterial spray explodes against walls. Avery doesn’t scrimp on the gore, accomplished with a refreshing focus on practical effects work as much as CGI enhancement, in a rare example of a film that earns its 18 certificate through protruding bones and flowing claret alone.
But that’s not to say that Overlord is simply a gorefest. Adepo’s central grunt is an intriguing presence at the heart of the narrative, constantly trapped between his compulsion to follow the orders of his superiors and the very human desire to intervene in obviously amoral practices. He also has a tender, underplayed romance with French villager Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who allows her house to be used as refuge by the American forces. They are the prototypical unlikely couple forced together by chaos, and their relationship is played nicely as a sideline to the story, without ever compromising the chaos of the film’s second half.
And that second half is when Avery unleashes his trump card, grabbing the audience by the throat and refusing to let go for a riotous cacophony of noise and horror. The violence hits hard, with Pilou Asbæk – last seen as Game of Thrones‘s uber-heel pirate Euron Greyjoy – doing excellent work as a genuinely hissable bad guy whose seriously terrifying facial make-up was the star of the movie’s marketing campaign. A final face-off involving him and Russell – as ruggedly compelling as he so often is – is a genuine highlight that will have 50% of the audience punching the air and 50% hiding behind their buckets of popcorn in fear.
At the end of the day, Overlord is a B-movie through and through, with trashy themes and an emphasis on grungy violence over character depth. However, it’s a prime example of that brand of cinematic storytelling that serves as a visceral, blood-soaked balm ahead of the onslaught of weighty awards season material that will be heading into multiplexes as we near the end of the year. It’s military men fighting Nazi zombies – what’s not to love?
Pop or Poop?
Julius Avery expands his filmmaking canvas with blood-soaked relish in Overlord, in which the Second World War movie gets a genre spin. With the help of crunchy, impressive practical effects work and some solid performances, this is a terrific example of a wartime horror that will play very well indeed to the bloodthirsty midnight movie crowd.
Next up for Avery? A remake of Flash Gordon.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.