Movie Review: "Overlord" (2018)
One of the things that I’ve become a real champ at in the last couple of years as a critic is being objective. There are a number of forces that cause you to lose that objective focus- the allure of Hollywood connections, outright bribery, pressure to bullshit your way through it, overwhelming positive/negative opinions of others in the community…it’s a jungle out there. Still, the most insidious force by far is the one that we’re all subject to, fans and critics alike: HYPE. Goddamn hype!
The hype machine is a necessary evil. None of those other influences have the power to cloud your judgment as much as that crazy buzz. Combine that with the fact that I am a good, old-fashioned whore for war horror (I’m literally in the middle of a Wolfenstein campaign), and I was almost scared to go see the newest offering from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot.
The flip side of that coin is how satisfying it is when the hype is legit. It’s borderline sexual. I say that without an ounce of either shame or regret, my dignity intact.
Overlord is set in the hours before the storming of the beaches at Normandy, France on D-Day. An Airborne squad is dropped in with a simple mission: take out a communications station setup in an old church in a small village. Led by Sergeant Rensin (Bokeem Woodbine; Dead Presidents) and Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell; 22 Jump Street), they’re nearly wiped out as soon as they hit the ground. Only Ford remains to lead Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo; Fences) and the ragtag remains on a suicide mission. Aided by a local French woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who’s been living under Nazi occupation for some time, they uncover a brutal regime, secret experiments, and a mad doctor at the head of it all. As the stakes get higher and the time runs out, the decision must be made whether to simply take out the communications and clear the way for D-Day or destroy the whole evil operation that’s steeped in Nazi occultism.
There are a lot of impressions to take away from Overlord, but the first one that struck me is that despite how batshit crazy it is there’s never a feeling of campiness or hokey fun. It is a fun movie, but it’s fun in the way that the best WWII flicks that aren’t intended to be deep and meaningful are- you’re just pulling for the good guys with a snappy salute. The war aspect is first-rate, be it gun play or explosions or that killer jump scene to open the film. They clearly spent money making this (reported budget: $38 million) and spent it in the right places. The score is classic world war action and complements the proceedings perfectly.
I wanted to say that it was taking a bit too long to get into the horror and out of the straight action, but it was actually quite necessary to establish each character’s role (moral compass, comedy, sacrificial lamb, leader) and make you give a damn. It was a close thing, but right when I was about to get frustrated they turned the volume up to eleven and broke off the knob.
What director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) and writer Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) give us is a seamless blend of war and horror that wears its influences like a badge of honor. There are scenes that smack of the best of old-school Resident Evil. You’ll catch a strong vibe of The Thing at times; it doesn’t hurt that Wyatt Russell is the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn (you’ll swear it’s MacReady a couple of times). The action style and visual film grain are pure grindhouse.
Who knew WWII occult horror could feel sleazy? And do we ever get tired of flamethrowers?
Overlord is a suspend your disbelief film through and through, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. Do not nitpick it. Spare me the “that’s so unrealistic” whining. Take your fucking pacifier and go elsewhere if you’re inclined to do so; you stepped into the wrong movie. The action is supposed to be over the top. Boyce’s initial trip through the compound and lab is laughably unbelievable, not played for laughs but nonetheless eliciting stellar dark humor. Sometimes bullshit is the exact right answer.
Special love must be given to Jovan Adepo as Boyce, the moral compass and consummate good guy. He reminded me (physically) quite a bit of Finn from the new Star Wars movies…only about a zillion times better. If John Boyega had those kind of chops, the new trilogy wouldn’t have those dead spots. Harsh, I know. But it’s true. See for yourself.
There’s a moment (I won’t spoil it for you, obviously) where the action goes from “let’s get to it” to “sweet baby Jesus that was sick!”. You’ll know it when you see it. It will be remembered as one of the most memorable scenes in the film. That’s the moment when I couldn’t honestly say which was bigger- my grin or my raging, geeky, granite boner. The debate still raged as the credits rolled because neither left my person for the remainder.
There is not an ounce of hyperbole in that rather off-color analysis. I swear I’m being objective in this review. Don’t let the hard-on freak you out.
How do you get deserved hype? By taking a boatload of action cliches and legendary horror influences and making them blast ahead with style and gore to spare, avoiding unnecessary exposition and over-explanation. You simply let the horror of it all speak for itself with grotesque beauty.
Overlord may not go down as a box-office showoff, but you can damn sure bet it’ll be a classic for years to come.