What do you get when you take a classic, man-on-a-mission World War II movie and mix it up with a zombie castle movie? You get Overlord, one of the year’s most enjoyable thrill rides.
OVERLORD: J.J. Abrams Presents…
The plot is pretty simple, a group of paratroopers fresh out of boot camp is sent on an air mission to France. The objective: take out a tower so our planes can get through in time for D-Day. After their plane is shot down, the surviving soldiers (from twenty men to a meager group of five) take shelter in a young woman’s home in Nazi-occupied France and plan their attack, only to discover that something is brewing under the tower. The Nazis are making Zombies.
Overlord comes courtesy of director Julius Avery and writers Billy Ray and Mark L Smith, but the real name on the docket that everyone was paying attention to was producer J.J. Abrams. Abrams is something of a controversial figure at the moment. I think it is safe to say that his Mystery Box formula to filmmaking has garnered as much derision as love in recent years. His determination to keep plots, and sometimes entire productions under wraps (see 10 Cloverfield Lane) has led to mixed results. You can either get the very good Cloverfield or the very bad The Cloverfield Paradox. And for weeks leading up to the release of this movie, all I heard people say about this film is “yeah, the trailer looks good, but what if it’s another Cloverfield movie?”
Let’s get this out of the way, pronto. Overlord is not a Cloverfield sequel. Thank GOD. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Cloverfield was great (though not as great as the marketing around it) and 10 Cloverfield Lane was a neat little thriller, even if its tenuous connection to the original film was the worst part about it. I didn’t see The Cloverfield Paradox, but by all accounts it is terrible. I like J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot and I even like Cloverfield but I don’t need every original sci-fi or thriller movie Bad Robot makes to be set in the “Cloververse.”
So you can imagine my relief when I found out that Overlord has nothing to do with Cloverfield and is instead a tight war film that packs a predictable, but thoroughly enjoyable punch.
Let’s Punch Some Nazis
Overlord is the best kind of genre picture, one that understands exactly what it is and executes it with aplomb. It understands the aesthetic of the World War II film and embraces it in the same way that Quentin Tarantino did with Inglourious Basterds. And importantly, it understands what so many other films of its ilk do not. You can only get so far with Nazi shoot ’em up action. Instead, the film cleverly plays its cards close to the chest. The majority of the film involves the characters sneaking around, hiding in attics, and trying not to be seen or heard.
In many ways, this feels like Band of Brothers or any other WWII movie you’ve seen before. Is there a handsome young man who has never seen combat? Yup. How about a grizzled soldier who has seen it all before but needs to regain his heart? Yeah! What about a Nazi who is a sexual harassment creep? Oh, you bet! Is there a soldier who tells you all about what he’s going to do at home before he bites it? Of course there is. Can we get a Nazi henchman who gets killed in an over the top and wildly satisfying fashion? Oh, just you wait! Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends. There is a particular relationship between a New York Jewish wisecracking soldier (because of course there is) and a little French boy with a baseball that had the audience cracking up. It hits all the beats you’re expecting to see. The point is that it hits them well.
Last Word On Overlord
Overlord is the kind of movie we don’t see Hollywood make often enough, the elusive mid-budget movie. The 30-80 million dollar movie is disappearing, evaporating in the cinematic desert. In its place are films that scrape by with their independent budgets, or the bloated 200 million fare that has become more and more prominent in the blockbuster era.
Overlord exists in defiance of that notion. It has enough money to be big, not enough to be massive, and it uses its time and money in a way that is 100 percent effective.
What makes Overlord so refreshing is that it has absolutely no pretense. It has one goal and one goal only: make a straightforward World War II Zombie movie and make it good. And it pulls it off.
The cast and crew have made a smart thriller, one that manages to glean more tension than flat out scares, but when it’s time for the move to turn goofy and gory, boy does it turn goofy and gory. If there is any justice in the world, this movie will be nominated for best makeup. It is simply too awesome to be ignored.
This might be a movie you would enjoy seeing on a plane, but then you wouldn’t get to see it with a crowd of people, all pumping their fists and making chef hands. You know, the thing where the chef kisses his fingers and goes “MWAH!” The last thirty minutes of the movie is basically that non-stop.
Sure, to some extent this movie is empty calories but its empty calories that are with such craft that you might as well enjoy it.
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