MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War-Action-Horror/Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Bokeem Woodbine, Iain De Caestecker, Dominic Applewhite, Gianny Taufer, Jacob Anderson, Erich Redman, Patrick Brammall, Mark McKenna/Runtime: 110 minutes
I think it’s safe to start this review by telling you the following two concepts: World War 2 and Nazi zombies. Need I say any more than that for this film? Ok I guess I’ll add some more on to that. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, 2018’s Overlord is very much a film that knows exactly what kind of film it is. More than that, it’s a slice of cinema that knows what it wants to achieve and, despite its gloriously gonzo premise, still manages to operate with nary a wink or nod to the audience. Sure this slice of cinema lovingly embraces every single possible cliché in the horror and war genre books and sure you can pretty much figure out the arcs for every character in this with ease, but when the film utilizing them proves to be this much fun then who are we to quibble? Indeed it can be quite the daunting challenge to get the all-encompassing sense of doom and gloom found in a scary movie as well the potent action beats found in a war movie to collaborate in a single film so the fact that this slice of cinema’s helmer is able to accomplish it on the level that he does is truly a sight to behold. Yet when you also factor in an insightful message, terrific work behind the camera, and engaging work in front of the camera by a talented group of performers what you get is a slice of cinema that really truly is an engaging and riveting cinematic journey from beginning to end.
The plot is as follows: Winding the clock all the way back to that particularly infamous conflict known as World War 2 and placing us on the eve of what has come to be known as D-Day or, as the soldiers knew it, Operation Overlord (hence the title of the film), our slice of cinema opens as we see a group of American soldiers, as a key component of the operation, have been assigned to drop into the heart of enemy territory with a pair of objectives in mind. Namely to throw a pretty significant wrench into the Germans’ ability to get both necessary supplies to say nothing of communication to their troops out as well as to keep safe certain points in-country that will prove invaluable in making the arrival of those men coming in by sea via the coast of France a lot more of a success. Of course, as we all know sometimes the best laid of mice, men, and American military hierarchy don’t often go exactly as they should. Suffice it to say that this is one of those times as we see the initial drop is no more and no less than organized chaos. Indeed not only are their transport planes completely shot up, but so are a lot of the people on board said planes to the extent that only a fraction of this squad is able to safely get out and make it inland. A fraction incidentally that includes a decent and good of heart young man by the name of Pvt. Boyce who is still very much an idealist despite all that he has seen and a stoic yet skilled demolitions pro named Cpl. Ford who swiftly takes over the remaining men and assigns them to assist him in finishing his unit’s assignment to annihilate a significant radio installation near their current location. Yet as these two reluctant allies and the rest of their rag tag team make their way to the church where this tower is supposed to be with the aid of a woman living in the area, it isn’t long before they discover something else in the area. A something else that consists of a Nazi research lab, but with the caveat being that this particular research lab has been conducting experiments that are nothing more or less than truly the stuff nightmares are made of. Thus what started out as a disaster has now turned into a battle for survival against a force these men didn’t plan let alone account for, but one that they better get set to fight against if they wish to see another day of living let alone accomplish their mission and get out of the area in one piece…..
Now I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: this military green slice of wonderfully pulpy cinema that feels like someone played the Wolfenstein games a lot growing up (no issue there incidentally) is one that nearly is able to give exactly what you would think a slice of cinema combining together World War 2 and Nazi Zombie Experimentation would. I say almost because, as Ford lays out the plan to get inside the church and blow up the target, we are spending such an extended stretch of time inside a person’s home that even though get some terrific gun battle sequences to say nothing of heinous acts of Nazi cruelty to make you jeer and hiss, it all proves to be just the wrong degree of aimless that we see our thirst to see what we came to see transform into a brief period of intense dehydration. Making up for that however is the fact that this slice of cinema manages to be such a brilliant and fairly spot-on blend of both World War Two elements as well as something straight out of Lovecraft that I think fans of both genres should be relatively satisfied. Yes I know there are those of you who might be worried that the latter element will negate the impact held by the former, but I can assure that this slice of cinema’s level of combat potency is very much on point. Indeed perhaps the best example of this can be found in the beginning of this film as we see our hero and his squad engaging in barbs with each other before the blasts from an anti-aircraft gun begin turning their B52 transport into a metal block of Swiss cheese. Also aiding in this endeavor is the work from the sound design department in showcasing how loud the men’s firearms get as we witness them thrust onto the frontlines of combat not only terrified out of their minds, but also helplessly not ready for what awaits them as well. Indeed this is just as much a slice of cinema that dabbles in horror elements without question, but when you pair that with a genre of film like war, you see that the otherworldly isn’t always required to elicit horror. At least not right away. Now even though CGI viscerality is often something that fans of horror films take an issue with, I can safely say that this film is able to avoid that issue altogether as we that gruesomely terrifying work done in post-production manage to do a marvelous job of permitting some of the actors in this from being able to “beautifully” show off such things as neck bones all the way to pretty massive pockets left by projectiles of all kinds. Oh and that’s not even going into such things as huge needles slowly being yanked from a person still alive, a hand grenade being jammed down a person’s throat, remnants from a person’s cranial area, and zombie creatures that look like something you might see in a Resident Evil game. Thus either this film’s helmer has just managed to find just the right mix between the realms of practical and computer effects work or someone’s effects company is about to get a lot more people wanting to buy stock in their company. I say that because I can most definitely promise you that this slice of cinema delivers on its vow to be a visceral and brutal exploitation-style film once it is given the green light to do so. Suffice it to say that Overlord may not be the cinematic take on the Nazi Zombie missions in Call of Duty some of you might have been hoping for, but that’s honestly not a bad thing. Indeed the reconstruction of the World War 2 elements prove to be just as well-done as the Axis created creatures here and although the film might take its time in bringing the latter elements to the screen trust me when I say it is definitely worth the wait.
Now in terms of performances it should be noted that the character of Boyce is easily the beating heart, be it removed from the body or still intact within a skeletal framework dependent entirely on the viewer’s preference, of the film and as such requires an actor who can bring that in a way that feels authentic. To that end, I think praise must be given to Jovan Adepo for being not only a wonderfully likable hero, but also someone you have no difficulties at cheering on. Indeed here is a character who is thrust into the worst possible combat scenario imaginable and discovers that he must locate a hidden reservoir of bravery he never knew he had especially after he finds himself coming face to face with the grim and terrifying reality of everything that the Nazis are engaged in at the target site. Sure when this guy finds himself dealing with the purest form of wickedness imaginable, he is by no means scared because he knows what is riding on his success. At the same time though Adepo does a wonderful job of giving this character a potent set of morals that at times don’t make things easier for him especially with Cpl. Ford who, because of all that he has experienced in combat, knows that sometimes morals need to be pushed to the side for the sake of accomplishing the mission. Speaking of Ford, I guess you should know that Wyatt Russell is fantastic in this. Indeed this is a role that, if it were made back in the 80s I could easily see Wyatt’s dear ol’ dad Kurt playing with ease and to his credit Wyatt does bring a bit of Snake Plissken to the part in terms of both how he interacts with the others and physicality respectively. Suffice it to say that Russell manages to walk away with this film hook, line, and sinker and I am glad to see that the man has been given the chance to show his chops in other projects like the MCU’S Falcon and the Winter Soldier show because the dude is talented to a t. Now in terms of co-stars it should be noted that, among others, Iain De Caestecker does a good job in the role of the very fidgety photography-loving fellow soldier Chase even if I felt that he did in a lot of ways remind me of his character Fritz from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Likewise, we see that fantastic character actor Bokeem Woodbine may not have the biggest part in the film, but he does get some pretty awesome R. Lee Ermey-style lines as the unit’s initial commanding officer. We also get wonderful work from relatively newcomer to Hollywood moviemaking Hélène Cardona who gives a character who can most assuredly hold her own in this situation especially when the film gives her a fully-loaded flamethrower to play with. Now I will say that I’m not completely on board with the entire arc this slice of cinema has its antagonist operate with, I will say that quibble aside that what Pilou Asbæk brings to his mad Nazi scientist role in this is gonzo and gleefully over the top in the finest way possible. Suffice it to say that every single performance in this actually does a wonderful job of not only being their own character, but also in fleshing out (pun intended) the world of the film that much further.
All in all imagine my surprise when I got to the end of this slice of cinema and astonishingly realized that, for a slice of cinema dealing with both the 2nd World War as well as vicious Nazi zombies, this film also had a message that it also wanted to convey to those of us who watch it. That being that, hidden past the impressive genre mash-up, the truly remarkable work done behind the camera with (to no one’s surprise I am sure) particular praise going to the visual effects teams, and of course to the really good work done by this slice of cinema’s talented collection of performers, this film is one that deals with the idea of just where a person’s proverbial line is when it comes to just what they are willing, or not willing, to engage in whilst taking part in combat. Indeed to achieve victory in the face of what could easily be a given loss, do we fight with honor or do we take a page or two from the book of the wicked and swiftly use it against them? Honestly I can’t tell you the answer to that because for each of us I feel that the answer is different and that is perfectly ok. What I can tell you is that this slice of cinema could have chosen to just be a freakin’ awesome and unapologetic B slice of cinema about messing up a lot of Nazis and that would’ve been entertaining sure, but by aiming to also make a point this slice of cinema also proves to be wonderfully insightful if that’s your thing. Of course if that’s not your thing then don’t worry because this slice of cinema does also mess up a lot of Nazis and hey if that’s what you’re here for then get ready because you are in for an absolute blast from beginning to end. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Overlord “2018” a solid 3.5 out of 5.