Earlier this year it was announced that J.J Abram’s production company Bad Robot already had a follow up film to May’s woeful Cloverfield Paradox, entitled Overlord to be directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun). Details were sparse, but two things were certain it was set during D-Day and contained Nazi Zombies. Naturally, people added two and two together and made five, believing Overlord must somehow be linked to the Cloverfield universe. Given the plans to make the series an anthology project, the inclusion of an undead Reich perhaps wouldn’t seem too out of place. Yet there are no space monsters to be seen, meaning Overlord is a separate project more closely linked to computer games like Call of Duty and Wolfenstein.
Most notably this comparison can be made in the way that Overlord handles acts of violence both performed by and upon our protagonists. Take, for example the film’s startling opening where a troop carrier plane is shot down over enemy territory, soldiers are torn apart with reckless abandon as flames spill everywhere. It’s got some fantastic tension in the lead up to this, but the excessive nature of the execution makes you feel like you should be following multiple button prompts to control the carnage’s progression. This strangely is a tone that Overlord abandons soon after, choosing to play out as a slow burn WWII thriller until descending into chaos in the final half hour. This leads to a very tonally mismatched film that can’t decide if it wants to focus upon the horrors of war in Nazi controlled France, or revel in its infantile brutality as a modern B-movie.
The performances in this film are fine, if not forgettable. Jordan Adepo stars as a blank slate protagonist by the name of Private Boyce whom we are meant to sympathise with through the carnage, but never learn enough about bar the fact he was raised in Louisiana to do so. The rest of his platoon are either highly unlikeable (John Magaro as Tibbet), bland (Dominic Applewhite as Rosenfield), or some combination of the two (Wyatt Russell as Corporal Ford). One stand out comes from Mathilde Ollivier, playing the French local Chloe that takes in the soldiers after the Nazis experiment upon her Aunt. Her portrayal of rage is nuanced, finding a perfect zone between desperation, hopelessness, and vengeful determination. For an actor with only six credits on IMDb currently it’s a remarkable performance, and hopefully a signifier of things to come.
As previously mentioned the film only delves into conventional horror in its final stretch, focusing instead on the soldier’s plans to destroy a Nazi radio jamming tower prior to the beach landings of D-Day. The focus on this came as quite a surprise and could potentially have worked had something more interesting been attempted in the way of character development. Instead, it just breaks up the pace of the film, meaning when we finally get to the secret Nazi lab below the tower where the zombies are being created it’s with a sigh of relief crossed with exasperation, rather than anticipation.
However, the zombies really do save Overlord and deliver on its promise of B-movie nastiness. They’re frightening and relentless, falling into 28 Days’ runner category instead of the shuffling creatures dreamt up by George Romero half a century ago. Creaking and cracking with each movement, their guttural moans resonate through the secret Nazi base they inhabit in a disturbing accomplishment of sound design. The body horror that accompanies their presence would be enough to make even David Cronenberg wince too, as practical effects places body parts that usually don’t belong together in grotesque tandem or removes them with reckless abandon. So much care has been put into the design of the undead, making them a unique development on the horror staple. It is bizarre then that the film waits so long to reveal them to the audience. Overall the zombie count lands at around five, remarkably low for a film where the entire marketing campaign revolved around their inclusion.
Overlord is by no means a great film, but it is a decent way to spend a couple of hours. If it had embraced its B-movie tendencies and horror elements a little bit more, this could have been a very fun film. However, the pacing issues and tonal inconsistencies mixed with some bland performances prevent it from being anything above average. Unless zombie films are your true passion, maybe wait until this one hits a streaming service.