With a video game structure, "Overlord" takes time to get to actual action, but when it finally gets there it is extremely engaging and entertaining.
It is no news that Nazi Germany believed in occult and conducted human experiments under the pretense of science. Nazi-Zombie genre has long been established as one of niche horrors. Hence it is no wonder that “Overlord” tackles same topic. But why now?
The night before D-day a paratrooper squad is sent behind enemy lines. Their object is to disable a radio transmitter set in a church in a village close to the beach so that troops can have support from air. Among them is private Boyce. He is not cut off to be a soldier, for that he doesn’t need constant reminders from his mates. Last thing he wants to do is to kill someone, but he understands that he needs to do his job. But German forces on the ground greeted with heavy artillery fire. Their landing is a nightmare and only five of them survive, including Boyce. They make their way to the village to finish their mission and run into local girl Chloe. Village is swarming with Nazis and Chloe hides Boyce and his mates in her house. Soldiers start planning the upcoming mission, but soon they realize that Nazis are doing something more than just patrolling. And from Chloe they find out that some weird things are happening in the church.
If that sounds familiar, you are not alone. This whole premise has been explored hundreds of times in video games, in fact multiple franchises exist that deal with Nazis trying to create superhuman. There is a reason for that. Nazi soldiers are go-to antagonists of video games. You can just kill them right and left without any ethical questions. What else is bigger than them? Zombies, that’s what. They are dead already, so why worry about spraying bullets at them. Then you take both of these and add together and you have Nazi-Zombies – swarm of deadly enemies who a person is not only OK killing with, but kind of is obliged to do so.
And in all this, “Overlord” seems like a very decent film version of “Return to Castle Wolfenstein”. And while it is very alluring at the same time film can’t escape pitfalls being a video game movie. Just like “Tomb Raider“, for the most amount of time, “Overlord” seems like one level of game after another. Jump out of burning plane, land, find friends, go to village, locate friendly NPC who will explain everything, go on a mission to enter church, etc. This level-based approach works like a magic in a video game but doesn’t work that well in film.
“Overlord”, however, also includes moral story. We have an unlikely hero in face of quiet and romantic Boyce, who just never wanted any of this. His character evolution is logical and rational. While in the first of the film he does everything just to survive, he finally gets to situation where he needs to face his inner self and finally show determination and bravery. Which is nice, because rest of the characters are mostly cliche. We have a corporal who is all business, soldier who yaps non-stop and hates everything, Nazi colonel who loves taking advantage of French girls, a kid who is there to push plot forward. Good old horror films cliche character that are one dimensional, plain and convenient.
Overall I did enjoy the directing by Julius Avery, albeit there were some issues with pacing. “Overlord” takes its time to get to much promised zombies. It is not a bad filmmaking, but we all know where it is going. We didn’t come to watch WWII movie, we all came to see the dead come to life. “Overlord” unfortunately takes all these fun action sequences and pushes all the way to final quarter of the film. Shame, because these scenes are really adrenaline-inducing and fun to watch. Instead of this, Avery gives us redundant jump shots, that are neither scary nor jumpy, when it comes to that.
I have to commend the whole cast, they did a very solid job. Jovan Adepo stars as romantic Boyse and he delivers a very good performance. It would be very easy to overact in this role, but Adepo handles himself masterfully. Wyatt Russell plays corporal Ford with strong personality and some secrets. Pilou Asbæk in his usual devious manner plays Nazi officer Wafner.
With a clear video game structure, “Overlord” takes time to get to actual action, but when it finally gets there it is extremely engaging and entertaining.