Overlord is the 2018 film directed by newcomer Julius Avery, with a screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Billy Ray, the former has an extensive horror resume and the latter a body of work that lives in thriller and closer to reality. The film itself is equal parts WWII drama and horror movie. From the trailers, I expected to walk into the original Call of Duty Zombies mini-games, with a team taking out waves zombie Nazi’s. That isn’t what I got and I don’t know how to feel about it. To be perfectly honest, the production quality of the movies and story were both worlds above what I expected going in and it was a bit weird.
The movie itself centers around the deployment of 101st Airborne paratrooper Boyce, played by Jovan Adepo, and his what remains of his platoon, as they are on a mission to take out a Nazi radio tower in France on the eve of D-Day. If they can destroy the tower, American forces can end the war. But it isn’t easy. As they enter the occupied French town they realize that there is more going on than just an occupation.
The movie begins by establishing the classic war-movie trope personalities of the soldiers on the plane, and after about five minutes it immerses the audience into a stressful state of visceral action that continues throughout Overlord. From the plane crash, and some surprise deaths, the tone for the movie is set, but really isn’t met again until the end of the film. As the platoon is whittled down to Boyce, Tibbet (John Magaro), Ford (Wyatt Russell), Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite) we see the violence of being behind enemy lines, and all the classic archetypes of soldiers in war movies.
For the first three-fourths of the movie, you get to know our main characters, especially our protagonist Boyce who is a man who can’t even kill a mouse. This plays well into the story, his kind heart and passive stance stand in stark contrast to the world around him provides exposition that isn’t verbal. By watching him in this setting of violence, you learn all you need to know about him and the world at war without dialogue explaining the story for you. Boyce is also just a great character and the actor who brings him to life had the opportunity to show a wide range of emotion and moral stances.
We learn about the war, and the movie is grounded in the very real “Nazi science,” which led often led to capturing and experimenting on both citizens of occupied towns and those held in concentration camps, which almost always ended in death. We see the effects of the trauma to the remains of a family, Chloe, who is shown to be a battle-tested veterinarian, her aunt, and her eight-year-old brother Paul.
Throughout her life, the American soldiers are shown the realities of the war and eventually have to make the decision: the mission or the people. Overlord handles the development of the men and the overall story well. I went in expecting a b-horror movie and left with a film that showcased the intensity and uncertainty of war while using the real horrors as a foundation for the typical horror science we seen in the last act of Overlord.
Our main character Boyce eventually explores the lab of horrors and the use of special effects both practical and CGI was impeccable, with both being used at appropriate times. The creature design of the “undead” was unsettling and the injuries they receive definitely made me put down my beer and wait to take a sip until the next scene. The movie is gory but less than I expected.
Although the movie itself isn’t so much Band of Brothers as it is a story akin to Doctor Who’s “The Empty Child.” It brought way more to the screen than I expected which left the middle section feeling too drawn out. Was it necessary to tell a story? Yes. But in a film with a high-octane trailer, promotional material, and even opening scene, the lack of action in the meat of the movie is something I take issue with. At an hour and 50-minutes, the movie could have been trimmed down to an hour-20 with no problem, removing a lot of the downtime and accelerating the pace and could have kept the tone of the opening.
It’s a good horror movie with great tension building moments, a couple of jump scares, and well-done blood work and action sequences. The creature design is great and the person behind building out the Nazi’s lab is deranged in the best way for a horror mind. The movements of the “zombies” for lack of a better word, are reminiscent of the Dawn of the Dead remake from 2003 and are definitely stress-inducing. The costumes are great and the environments are dingy, dark, and well made with elements playing in both the foreground and background which I am a sucker for.
The actors were all great, even the tropey commanding officer, but at the end of the day, I wanted a movie that embodied the best of wave-clearing zombie games. The movie didn’t know what it was and that can work to its benefit for non-horror and non-gaming audiences, but for those who identify as those, like I am, there is a lot to be desired.
That being said, this is more the marketers’ fault than it is the director or writers, and it most definitely isn’t the fault of the actors. It’s not Wolfenstein or Treyarch’s wonderful world of zombie Nazi slaying but if you go in expecting what I did, you’ll be let down, but if you don’t have the same frame of reference, you’ll like Overlord.
Overlord is now available on VOD.
That being said, this is more the marketers’ fault than it is the director or writers, and it most definitely isn’t the fault of the actors. It’s not Wolfenstein or Treyarch’s wonder world of zombie Nazi slaying but if you go in expecting what I did, you’ll be let down, but if you don’t have the same frame of reference, you’ll like Overlord.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.