Fantastic Fest Review: Overlord
J.J. Abrams enters the surprisingly deep zombie Nazi genre
By Richard Whittaker,
8:34AM, Mon. Sep. 24, 2018
Nazi zombies are not a new idea: The Reich's hideous record of human rights crimes disguised as research has long been processed by pop culture into Frankenstein-esque plots of undead Wehrmacht. Of course producer J.J. Abrams, who seems to be working his way through every genre, would go after World War II ghouls eventually.
Overlord takes its name from the real Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 1944. However, this takes place in a parallel conflict, where the Nazis have uncovered the secret to creating undead super soldiers, and the U.S. military wasn't institutionally racist.
Thus the integrated unit being dropped behind enemy lines: the squirrelly Chase (Iain De Caestecker); loudmouth sniper Tibbett (John Magaro); grizzled vet Ford (Wyatt Russell); and Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the naive young trooper who isn't really ready for conflict, and who mostly expresses this by coming up with terrible plans, or disobeying orders in a way that will probably get him or someone else killed.
Director Julius Avery starts the action with an incredibly loud and CGI-heavy re-creation of the pre-D-Day aerial assault, one that feels cobbled together from every other World War II drama shot in the last half decade. The squad makes it to a small village and reluctantly teams up with local Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). In one of the rare moments of innovation, she isn't a member of the French Resistance, but she is still extremely handy with a knife, gun, and (fortuitously) flame thrower. The team think she can get them into the church on top of which the Ratzis have built a radio jammer; but she knows there's something much worse going on under the steeple.
So far, so predictable, and it never gets much better, especially when it comes to the Nazis. Pilou Asbæk is given little to do with the cardboard villain S.S. officer than strut, preen, abduct children, and play as a foil to Boyce and Ford's ongoing arguments about the ethics of this war.
Remove the horror aspects, and Overlord is just ham fisted, with characters just wandering off for extended periods, questionable accents, and some seriously sloppy continuity goofs. But once the GIs break into the crypt and find the terrible science lair which ... well, it's never really sufficiently explained what's going on, but it's definitely evil.
But it's also oddly unimpressive. There are a few interesting practical effects, but they're often only glimpsed, or shot in so much shadow that any impact is lost. This would merely be annoying, especially considering that the film spends so much time yelling at the audience; but when it's the Nazi zombie genre, not leaning into the crazy and weird and grisly is just a lost opportunity. Originally designated as a Cloverfield sequel (an idea doomed after the ill-fated Cloverfield Paradox), what's left is an adaptation of the groundbreaking shoot-em-up game Wolfenstein 3D in all but name. That said, if you can't come up with a design as memorable as the ÜberSoldat, then ask why you're even bothering.
Honestly, that there's this much talent and money being thrown at one of the craziest horror subgenres, and it's so overshadowed by both the almost decade-old Dead Snow and the simply gonzoid indie found footage mayhem of Frankenstein's Army, is borderline inexcusable.
Wed. Sept 26, 11:50pm
Fantastic Fest runs Sept. 20-27. For more news, reviews, and interviews, as well as our daily show with the oneofus.net podcast network, visit austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.