After making a splash at Fantastic Fest and grabbing attention for its crazy video game-esque premise, J J Abrams-produced Overlord is finally being released in cinemas more widely.
Directed by Julius Avery, who was announced for the Flash Gordon job last week, the film follows a group of mismatched American soldiers in WWII stranded behind enemy lines as they attempt to bring down a secret radio tower in a remote French town. Once there, they discover a woman (Mathilde Ollivier) and her younger brother, who are being terrorised by the Nazi officers (a deliciously evil Pilou Asbaek), and make an even more shocking discovery underneath the tower itself.
The group consists of timid Boyce (Jovan Adepo), brash Ford (Wyatt Russell), jaded Tibbet (John Magaro), and innocent Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and they must come together to help good triumph over evil in the days before the war ends.
Overlord is consistently a better war movie than it is a zombie flick, and that’s mostly down to the commitment its actors have to the former material. Rather than being a criticism, it’s this separation that makes the sci-fi horror stuff work so well, because the mostly archetypal characters are as shocked and baffled by the twist as we are.
That said, those who’ve been alerted to the film by its trailer or a description will probably get the most out of it, as the audience waits for the other shoe to drop and the undead to rise. Body horror is prioritised above actual zombie conventions and tropes, but you can’t blame anyone for putting ‘Nazi Zombies’ in the elevator pitch rather than ‘horrific things the Nazis may have actually tried to do’.
Despite its many flaws, it’s the strong performances that keep Overlord afloat. Russell in particular stands out as the more closed-off, typically heroic figure who feels way in over his head. His story beats are familiar as he stoops to the Nazis’ level in order to get the job done, but the few bits of deeper material that the film offers up towards the end go to Ford.
It’s interesting in itself to make Boyce the film’s protagonist, when in another film he would be relegated to the background or killed off early. But he provides a good moral centre and entry point for the viewer in the middle of all the over-the-top antics going on around him.
Adepo’s never better than in the opening sequence, which sees the plane carrying the soldiers and their ill-fated peers explode and Boyce airdrop to the ground – all in one glorious shot. It’s stunning, which is a blessing and a curse when the film must constantly try to top it.
As with most horror films of this ilk, the slightly cheaper (but no less impressive) special effects and practical makeup serves to make the creatures, injuries and disfigurements more disturbing. There will be moments in which you’ll need to cover your eyes, and others where you jump out of your skin from a well-placed jump scare. It has something for most breeds of horror fanatic.
Overlord isn’t trying to move the needle or revolutionise its split genres, but it’s doing what a lot of films forget to – entertaining its audience. It wears its B-movie cred on its sleeve and, despite a schlockiness that may turn off huge swathes of the audience, it will equally delight anyone who’s looking for a film without pretensions and bags of style in its place.
Overlord is in UK cinemas from Friday.