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Overlord Review: J.J. Abrams' Zombie-Nazi Horror Film Delivers The Thrills

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Overlord is an elevated B-movie that effectively blends war drama with zombie-Nazi horror for a wild, gory and fantastically fun thrill fest.

Thanks to the nature of secrecy surrounding J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield franchise, it seems any film produced under the director's Bad Robot banner is suspected of secretly being included in the series. When Overlord was first announced, little was known about it aside from it being a supernatural thriller set during World War II. As a result, fans speculated the Abrams-produced movie would somehow fit into the Cloverfield series timeline. However, the first trailer for Overlord confirmed it isn't a Cloverfield movie. Instead, Overlord stands alone as its own movie, which might ultimately be for the best. Overlord is an elevated B-movie that effectively blends war drama with zombie-Nazi horror for a wild, gory and fantastically fun thrill fest.

Overlord follows a squad of paratroopers as they're dropped into France on the eve of D-Day with the mission of taking out a radio tower so that the Allied forces will have air support when they storm the beaches. When their transport plane is shot down, though, the squad is quickly whittled away to a small group of survivors that includes Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbet (John Magaro), Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and war photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker). On their way to the small French village where the radio tower is located, the group runs across Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a woman scavenging for food and money to support her family. She leads the soldiers to the town and hides them in her home with her sick aunt and younger brother Paul (Gianny Taufer).

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The town is crawling with Nazi soldiers, lead by Nazi officer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), and Ford attempts to come up with a plan that will allow his team to take out the radio tower located on top of the village's church. However, when Boyce accidentally finds himself inside the basement of the church, he discovers the horrific experiments being done by Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman) on the townsfolk and some of the surviving paratroopers from his squad, including his friend Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite). With the Allied soldiers vastly outnumbered by the Nazis and a supernatural threat posed by the subjects of the experiments, it's unclear if Boyce, Ford and their group will be able to complete their mission - or get out alive.

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Produced by Abrams, Overlord was directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) from a script by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games, Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant). It's clear from the premise of Overlord that the movie could have gone full B-movie with a small cast and small budget - smaller than the budget it inevitably had, that is. But the smart directing choices of Avery and the practical makeup effects of the zombies - particularly the Asbæk's Wafner once his face is partially destroyed - effectively elevate Overlord to something more polished than a typical B-movie. Certainly, Avery's long shots and close-ups on the various characters, often Adepo's Boyce, allow viewers to follow along with the action in a way that builds the tension to a fever pitch. It makes Overlord feel smaller, in a good way, as the directing forces viewers to see only what the character is seeing or their reaction to what's going on. It's an immersive directing style that provides a more visceral movie experience that's fantastically entertaining - all while staying true to Overlord's B-movie roots.

The story of Overlord also feeds into the movie's B-movie feel, since it starts off with a fairly standard war movie premise: soldiers must do the impossible in order to complete their mission and win the day. However, when Boyce starts to explore the experiments in the church's basement, the supernatural aspects are slowly introduced and eventually Overlord goes full-tilt zombie horror. It does take some time for Overlord to work up to the zombie-Nazis, and those going into the theater expecting a full-on zombie movie may be disappointed by how long it takes for the undead to appear. However, the long, slow build-up allows for the payoff to be that much sweeter. And, once Overlord gets going in its third act, the movie really embraces its turn to zombie-Nazi horror and provides plenty of scares and gory moments.

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What further helps Overlord to work as well as it does is the ensemble cast. Adepo leads the ensemble as Boyce, a soft-hearted soldier who has trouble hurting a mouse. It's Boyce that the audience most often follows, making him the audience stand-in as viewers explore this small French town and the horrific experiments being done in the church basement. Adepo skillfully shoulders the role of Boyce and plays a compelling lead that viewers easily become invested in early on. Adepo is supported by Russell as Boyce's commanding officer Ford. Though Ford is a much more hardened soldier type, he plays the necessary contrast to Boyce's soft-heartedness. Magaro's Tibbet, Caestecker's Chase and Applewhite's Rosenfeld round out the group of soldiers well, providing moments of comedy amid the action and horror of the movie. Ollivier's Chloe is compelling as the movie's one named female character, and she's given some fun action moments, but she's also subjected to not one, but two near sexual assaults over the course of the movie. Lastly, Asbæk is delightfully evil as the Nazi officer Wafner, a one-dimensional villain neither the movie nor Asbæk even attempt to humanize. Instead, he gives Overlord a truly evil villain that's easy to root against.

Altogether, Overlord's directing, story and cast come together for an incredibly entertaining movie that knows exactly what it wants to be. This is a B-movie zombie horror set during arguably the most pivotal moment of World War II. Overlord contrasts those real world stakes with the supernatural threat of zombie-Nazis for a wildly entertaining ride. Certainly, thanks to the skill of Avery and his cast, Overlord succeeds in delivering everything the film promises, ultimately making for a fantastic moviegoing experience.

Although Overlord doesn't benefit from the name recognition that comes along with the Cloverfield franchise, it may be for the best that the movie stands on its own. It allows Overlord to be its own thing, and that's wild enough in its own right. Because of the way Overlord deftly blends genres - from war drama to sci-fi horror - it will appeal to fans of all kinds of movies. To be sure, anyone intrigued by the trailers for Overlord, or even just the premise of zombie-Nazis, will not be disappointed by the film itself. And for those wanting to experience the action and drama of Overlord to its fullest, it may be worth seeing the movie in IMAX, where viewers will be even more immersed in what's going on. Ultimately, Overlord is a B-movie with a little more polish, and will provide plenty of thrills and fun in the theater.

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Trailer

Overlord is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 109 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language and brief sexual content.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments section!

Our Rating:

4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Key Release Dates
  • Overlord (2018) release date: Nov 09, 2018
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