We went into this expecting only blood, guns, and dead Nazis. And we weren’t disappointed.
While cult genre films tend to have extraordinary weaknesses often willing to be overlooked by fans, this one from producer JJ Abrams and director Julius Avery (here making his big studio debut after the surprise hit Son of a Gun) is particularly well-made as an intelligent homage to fusion horror and period action that still ticks off all the blazing guns and steampunk science combined with Hitler’s hordes.
Enjoyable and filled to the brim with relentless Bad Robot-style freaky deakies. Here’s a number of ways we delighted in this movie sans the tongue-in-cheekiness.
As a WW2 Thriller
The opening scene in the belly of an Allied personnel dropship, where we get an introduction to almost all the main characters, also doubles as the literally propulsive plot device that catapults our battalion of American paratroopers into the shitstorm they’ll find themselves in soon.
See, it’s only hours until D-Day and these same paratroopers must drop into Nazi-occupied France to carry out a mission that’s, surprise surprise, crucial to the invasion’s success: destroy a radio transmitter atop a fortified church in a small, but elevated, town.
When the whole team is whittled down to just 4 soldiers (after a terse encounter with a roving Nazi patrol cuts down Bokeem Woodbine’s Sgt. Eldson), the desperate and now very small demolition assault squad join up with an Allied Forces-sympathetic, young French villager to penetrate the walls and take down the tower.
As a Mad Science Zombie Movie
Ah, but if things were only that simple! Where it takes a turn for the mysterious and the stuff of Nazi nightmares is when our hero Pvt Boyce, stumbles into the camp and unwittingly infiltrates the area underneath the bell tower. In the catacombs belly of the church where the mad scientists carrying out the 1,000 Year Reich plan is modifying whoever they can get a hold of, from villagers to captured soldiers, into…creatures…that are capable of being soldiers in that same millennial reign.
Are they super soldiers? Are they zombies? Who knows, but they’re certainly worthy of their own Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode; the one where Hitler is growing his empire into both the occult and fringe science domains and birthing all sorts of horrific unmentionables. It’s a WW2 zombie movie, so get out yer popcorn and achtung!
As a Trans-Atlantic Love Story
When the squad of 4 American paratroopers drop near the village of their mission target, they have very little idea how to go about infiltrating it.
Luckily they stumble on thief and salvager Chloe, a native of said village and, they find out, also hates Nazis with the same venom. Casting French newcomer Mathilde Ollivier in the role of Chloe could have been just another case of hot girl tokenism but Ollivier holds up her own when she not only bravely offers the stranded soldiers shelter, she even gets into heated combat scenes with the Nazis themselves.
There’s plenty of athleticism in this action movie and while Chloe battles it out with knives, guns, and even a flamethrower, she even finds the nuance to engage in cross-cultural flirtatious and tender moments with our very black American Pvt Boyce, who happens to have grown up speaking francais in a former French colony of the US.
What could have been a 2D character, not to mention being the only women in the group, was given opportunities for a display of strength, vulnerability, humor, and physicality that had Abrams saying how Ollivier “blew our socks off.”
As a Jovan Adepo Action Hero Debut
You may have already clocked the talented Jovan Adepo in the critically acclaimed Fences in 2016, but here he takes the lead role of the ensemble cast as the troubled and reluctant paratrooper U.S. Army Pvt. Boyce. He takes the straight man angle here where you can automatically relate to likely the only guy in a dropship full of sociopaths and savages that is horrified of the war and the necessary things needed to win it.
Adepo on-screen as Boyce is relatable, smart, and has the depth of an underdog’s arc. Boyce doesn’t fit in with the other soldiers, straight off the bat and there’s a sense he may not survive this war at all, but we continually root for him when he surmounts his fear and even transcends his aversion to kill.
As an Addition to the Pilou Asbæk Villains Gallery
In Lucy, Asbæk tricks his girlfriend, ScarJo’s titular character, into becoming a drug mule. And in the remake of Ben-Hur he played Pontius Pilate. This time, he gives the same silent psychosis that can turn into a zealous savage on the drop of a dime to the SS officer Dr. Wafner, who commands the Nazi forces of the area—this actor’s approach to villainy is as layered as they can come and for Wafner, he plays him like an epic bad guy in the pantheon of evil Nazis (like a boss at the end of a videogame level).
In one of the production anecdotes, Asbæk said that he wanted to play Wafner on the tone of an anecdote about another brutal, true-to-life Nazi officer he’d heard about: “One particular person we talked about was a Nazi commander who lived in an occupied village and was often an upbeat, jovial guy. He was cordial and liked to wear comfortable sweaters and drink chocolate milk. But in an instant, he would turn, shoot you in the head, and then finish his milk.”
Chilling stuff. Just like his Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.
As a Billy Ray and Mark Smith Genre Script Clinic
Two of the best multi-genre writers are Ray and Smith who have under their screenplay co-writing credits, the likes of The Revenant, Captain Phillips, Flightplan, and the cerebral gorefest that was Martyrs. In Overlord they keep the pacing, the dialogue, and the period-specific details as sharp as possible while giving the audience the hinted possibility of horrors still out of sight that later enables us to believe in the plausibility of the Nazis nurturing resurrection formulas to carry out their 1,000 year Reich within the blood of the Aryan beast.
As a Military Buddy Movie
When the battalion of paratroopers is brutally cut down to just 4 soldiers, we quickly discover that their personalities may not be the best blend of productivity to carry out the mission. While Adepo’s Pvt Boyce is aching and nervously somber, the one left in command is the hard-bitten Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), whose experienced explosives expertise comes with a surly attitude and a 1,000 yard stare that intimates witnessing bloody mayhem on the battlefield. Rounding up the squad is the battalion photographer and comms specialist Pvt Chase (Iain De Caestecker) who often gets on everyone’s nerves as the dude who smartly uses flash for his pics while in the middle of an infiltration mission.
When Ford assumes command of the ragtag unit, he often clashes with the loud mouth, sarcastic, and clowning Pvt Tibbet (John Magaro) who nonetheless provides the movie with some of its most comedic moments. As a classic World War II movie smashed into a monster horror film, the camaraderie of these guys is something familiar to hold on to until the chaos of the monsters comes into play and throws a monkeywrench into the whole Allied mission.
As a JJ Abrams Horror Show
Bad Robot is becoming the studio to look to for aficionados of genre-marrying movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane. Producer JJ Abrams certainly has the eye and resources to bring the talent he needs together
“The horrors of war are already there in the story, so when you suddenly get thrown into the freakish fantasy material, it actually doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch,” Abrams said and the crafting of this movie is spit on that theme.
With an R-rating for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content those yearning for a more visceral screen experience this month won’t come away disappointed.
“Overlord” opens on November 7 in Metro Manila cinemas. Photos courtesy of United International Pictures