While I’ve had a blast here at Fantastic Fest this year, and I’ve been fortunate to have seen a bunch of incredible films, I must admit that the biggest surprise for me was Julius Avery’s Overlord, a bombastic and gritty horror actioner that pits a group of US soldiers against a squadron of Nazis and their zombified science experiments that are running amok. Not that I necessarily had expected the film to be bad or anything—especially since historical horror is something that very much scratches a few cinematic itches for me as a viewer—but I just didn’t know much about the film overall, other than it was Bad Robot’s first R-rated production, and holy hell is it an absolute blast. It also made me an immediate fan of Avery’s, and I look forward to seeing where his career goes from here (my fingers are crossed for more movies like Overlord).
Overlord kicks off aboard a military plane where a group of soldiers are about to parachute into Nazi-occupied France on the eve of D-Day, tasked with taking down a radio tower that has been interfering with Allied communications during World War II. Once they land and realize there’s something far more sinister going on at the Nazi base than they had anticipated, their mission gets altered when they set out to destroy the base and all the medical abominations contained within its confines.
On a conceptual level, Overlord is a pretty standard setup, where it’s a good guys versus bad guys scenario, and there happens to be a bunch of zombie-like creatures our heroes must contend with throughout their battle to destroy the evil Axis forces to boot. Beyond that, though, Overlord manages to rise above certain expectations by delivering gnarly and gory moments of pure horror, pulse-pounding action, and an ensemble of characters that, although they tap into popular tropes we’ve seen in films like these before (the reluctant fighter, the reclusive hero, the sarcastic guy, the dreamer, etc.), become fully-realized characters the more time we spend with them, to the point where you end up connecting with them on an emotional level. That’s something I very much appreciated.
The entire cast of Overlord features a bunch of up-and-comers, but I hope this film kicks opens many doors for all of them, because I would love to see more from the entire cast in the future. Wyatt Russell takes command in the film as the guy who has seen too much already, and he’s got the good sense to take measured action against his enemies. Jovan Adepo, who plays Boyce—a guy motivated by his own unwavering moral compass—is an absolute delight in Overlord, and I loved how his character ends up connecting on this deeper level with Mathilde Ollivier’s Chloe throughout the film as well. John Magaro provides the movie with some great beats of comedic relief, and he also has some adorable scenes with the little dude who plays Chloe’s younger brother. Pilou Asbæk plays the asshole Nazi leader Wafner, who is front in center in Overlord, and there’s a transformative moment for his character that pushes the film into full-blown movie monster territory, and he just looks like he’s enjoying every single moment of demented mayhem his character unleashes upon his foes.
As far as the technical aspects of Overlord go, the film’s greatest achievement (beyond the fact that it relies mostly on practical special effects, save for one creature that had no other choice but to go the "practical blended with CGI effects" route, but is still awesome) is the insanely effective sound mix, which just becomes an assault on your senses. In fact, the movie started off so loudly that in our theater, the speaker amps blew out and had to be restarted early on. But the sound is so damn effective, and really pulls you right into all the action, and when Overlord creeps by on some quieter moments of dread and suspense, those sequences work just as well, too (it's also worth noting that although you don’t really see her, Meg Foster plays a mostly off-screen character and I just loved seeing her name pop up in the credits).
For those of you who have been craving some big budget, horror-infused action, Overlord is a ridiculous amount of fun and absolutely worth seeing on the big screen (I’m planning on seeing it again in IMAX, because the visuals in the film—particularly in the beginning—really feel like they’d be worth the added expense), and I hope this marks a brand new direction for Bad Robot in terms of their genre offerings. Also, for anyone who may be wondering, Overlord does not connect to the Cloverfield universe in any way, shape, or form, and I absolutely love that it’s completely its own thing. I do hope we get to see where these characters head in the future (the ending definitely leaves things open enough to where we could potentially get more, but the story also satisfies as a one-off). I’ve been patiently waiting for years to see the Wolfenstein video game series get some kind of filmic adaptation, and Overlord feels like the closest we’ll ever get, which is pretty damn rad.
Movie Score: 4/5
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