A fast-paced, fun WW2 action-horror*(WARNING: Review may contain SPOILERS!)*
Julius Avery’s ‘Overlord’ gets the special effects right, combining make-up, practical and CGI just right. Sadly all in service of a film neither funny enough to be splat-stick, nor terrifying enough to be gore-drenched horror.
I’m a splat-stick fan. Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead 2’ and Peter Jackson’s ‘Braindead’ are amongst my favourite movies. I love practical SFX, give me John Carpenter’s original ‘Thing’ or Stuart Gordon’s ‘Re-Animator’ over CGI-generated horrors any day of Halloween season.
‘Overlord’s opening scene’s a cracker though. We follow Jovan Adepo as an American paratrooper, flying over Nazi-occupied France, only to have his plane hit, forcing him to jump… hang on, wait a second. Haven’t I seen this scene in that Tom Cruise sci-fi ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’?
Oh yeah, still, it’s great to see a horror movie kick off with an action-packed World War II opening clearly influenced by the “drop the audience straight in the action”-style of ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Exhilarating, exciting and excellently put together, the first ten-minutes of ‘Overlord’ rock.
Then it sort of stumbles, with clichéd characters – the tough as nails lead soldier, who really has a heart of gold, the damsel in distress (who, despite needing to be saved three times, suddenly turns into Ripley from ‘Aliens’, and kicks Nazi butt), the wide-eyed raw recruit etc etc.
Okay, all forgivable, all part of the fun. But where ‘Overlord’ lost me was in failing to set up the rules of its game. Remember how in ‘Dracula’ movies the wise old Van Helsing dude lays out the rules? Vampire + sunlight or stake through the heart = dead. Or how werewolf + silver bullet = game over. Or zombie minus head = done.
In ‘Overlord’ the Nazi super soldiers are indestructible and totally, um, destructible all at once. The super-serum doesn’t work, then suddenly does. All forgivable if this was an out and out comedy, but because ‘Overlord’ wants to meld comedy and horror it fails to build any tension or real stakes because it refuses to lay down, let alone play by, any basic rules.
A shame, because the pace and action are handled with deft assurance, and the cast are great, despite the likes of Pilou Asbæk being severely underutilised.
The 100-minute or so run-time is so brief that it really could do with an added 20-minutes of exposition, to set up the rules of the game. Think back on how ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ started with a slam-bam action set-piece, then took its time setting up characters and plot points, all to pay off in the second and third acts.
Then there's the narrative threads and ideas left unexplored - the visual birthing imagery is repeated but to no real end. It's as though the filmmakers really love the 'Alien' movies, but are simply copying elements from them, rather than giving them new life.
There’s also an odd imbalance in the narrative, wherein our hero finds himself inside the church the evil Nazi doctor is experimenting on local people in, but then our hero escapes, only to return in an all too brief third act to take the lab down. It’s as though the film realises it’s reached its climax too early and doubles-back on itself.
Pedantic narrative structure ramblings aside, ‘Overlord’ is always fast and frenetic, with oodles of fun for action and horror fans, but it leaves a lingering regret because it could have been so much better. As it stands, it’s fun but pretty forgettable B-movie schlock, with a superb opening sequence that the rest of the movie just can’t quite match.