2018, R, 109 min. Directed by Julius Avery. Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 9, 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 paratroop unit being dropped behind enemy lines: the squirrelly Chase (De Caestecker); loudmouth sniper Tibbett (Magaro); grizzled vet Ford (Russell, doing his best Tom Berenger in Platoon meets Lee Marvin in The Big Red One); and Boyce (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 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 (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. 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.
So far, so predictable, and it never gets much better, especially when it comes to the Nazis. 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. Characters wander off on patrol, and then reappear purely because the script demands that someone burst into an ongoing scene. Machine guns are fired in a small room, and no Wehrmacht guards come running. Accents come and go, and continuity is for suckers.
Remove the horror aspects, and Overlord is ham-fisted and 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 off-brand 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.
Is this the worst Nazi zombie movie ever made? Not even close (that title goes to 1981's unwatchable Zombie Lake). But it's oddly sloppy and unambitious, mistaking loud for really crazy. Honestly, that there's this much talent and money being thrown at one of the wildest horror subgenres, and yet 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.