It's no Citizen Kane, but Overlord's WW2 zombie action is the most fun I've had at the cinema for some time.
Like many moviegoers, I have a dedicated ‘bad movie buddy’. This character, who shall go unnamed for his own sake, has endured the agonies of Jigsaw and Slender Man with me over the past year, proving that neither of us have much self-respect or taste in films. When I heard that they had made a literal ‘Nazi Zombies’ movie, you’d better believe I was straight on the phone to him. Overlord‘s trailer says it all: its D-Day 1944, and a group of cud-chewing, flag-waving American soldiers are to be pitted against inhuman Nazi hordes in a rural French village. I was so, so down to watch what I presumed would be a glorious slow-mo implosion of talent and filmmaking.
So, it is with great surprise and joy that I am able to report that Overlord is not a terrible movie. It might even be a great one. How did this come to pass? Well, whilst it might be difficult to pin all of that success on a single man, the film was produced by J.J. Abrams via Bad Robot Productions, giving what could have so easily been a schlocky, Michael Bay-esque borefest a major triple-A boot up the ass. For starters, the cinematography is stunning. From the opening sequence, which employs a disorienting camera spin accompanied by a bombastic soundscape to create a hauntingly-real first person experience of what it might have been like to make the terrifying jump from that plane in 1944, I knew the film was something a bit special. What follows are some genuinely creepy moments, including an inflitration into a grotesque and sinister Nazi laboratory, unnerving glimpses of a disease-ridden zombie aunt, and some eye-poppingly gross body contortions. The music, composed by Jed Kurzel, is superb, crafting a nightmarish vision of one of the darkest parts of history.
Most of the acting is on point, too. Jovan Adepo is our lead, the reluctant soldier Boyce, and he does a fairly good job of leading us from setpiece to setpiece. But it’s Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbaek as SS Captain Wafner who steals the show. Wafner is a genuinely-chilling and disturbed presence in the film; even as the third act descends into glorious insanity, you can rely on Asbaek’s performance to anchor the experience. Whether he’s cosying up to a terrified Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) or grinning from ear to ear as the lower half of his jaw gives way to zombified rot, his performance is magnetic, demonstrating a much more interesting range than we’ve previously seen with his role as insane pirate king Euron Greyjoy. The only bum note is Wyatt Russell’s Corporal Ford, who’s trying a little too hard to convince us of his grizzled veteran status – unfortunately he is simply too inexperienced to pull off such a role.
Explaining the intricacies of the plot would be futile, mostly because I’m still not entirely certain what was going on, but the headlines are engaging enough. The film draws inspiration from the true-life human experiments carried out by the Nazis in the T-4 programme, although it takes many liberties with the facts in order to maximise the entertainment value. This is one of those movies where the main characters are perfectly content to mess around with unknown technology and inject themselves with dubious red liquids at any given moment (see: Prometheus), so assigning logic to decisions seems a little pointless.
The film’s meshing of the war film and classic horror is pretty seamless, with only the opening scene serving as an indicator that any join had taken place. And, whilst the third act is rushed, it ends with a pleasingly ridiculous fight between two roided-up rage zombies – and what more could you ask for? If you go to Overlord looking for a straight war movie, a character study or even a secret fourth Cloverfield film, you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you switch off your brain at the stem and just roll with it, you’ll have a blast – I know me and my buddy did.
Overlord, directed by Julius Avery, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures. Certificate 18.