Movie Review : Overlord (2018)
Society in general has grown tired of zombie movies for almost a decade, now. There’s a reason for that: the living dead aren’t exactly deep. At least, nowhere near as deep as they’ve been sold us to be. But can they be still entertaining and say something about the world we live in? It’s not a question I have an answer to right now, but the movie Overlord (which came out last Fall to little fanfare) sure is an argument for the cultural significance of zombies. It’s smart, economical, ultra violent and a wicked good time if you’re burned out on zombie movies like me.
So, Overlord is the story of a small platoon of American soldiers shipped behind enemy lines on D-Day. Their mission is simple: destroy a radio jamming tower. If they succeed, the allied forces will have air support the next day and if they don’t, they will be on their own. Huge stakes. Their mission goes to shit right off the bat when their plane is shot down. Only four survivors remain: Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Tibbett (John Magaro) and Chase (Iain De Caestecker) and what they wind on the other side is beyond their worst nightmare.
The great thing about Overlord is that it doesn’t even try to be realistic. In the vein of German expressionist movies, it reflects more “what it felt like” to be fighting nazis rather than “what it was like.” By that, I mean that Overlord is ridicuously gothic. There’s an old, decrepit church in the middle of town, where supernatural things are happening; hidden monsters; beautiful, but tortured landscapes; a bad guy (Pilou Asbaek) who wants to sexually dominate the protagonist’s love interest and much more. Overlord is like an embellished, over the top war story told by a veteran who may or may not be yanking your chain, rather than a war documentary.
I’m good with that because the movie isn’t interested in realism at all and sometimes going over the top is the only way to express how fucking crazy and terrifying it was to wage war to Nazis.
Overlord is what would happen if Saving Private Ryan and Re-Animator had an illegitimate baby. It gets that crazy with the Nazi zombies narrative. There’s even a mad scientist in a lab coat injecting dead bodies with large, goofy syringes to bring them back to life. But it’s pretty straightforward too. It’s a kill-the-bad-guys-and-save-the-day movie. The stakes are huge for the protagonists, but they’re trying to survive first and foremost. It’s a nice change of pace from the Marvel type we-have-to-save-the-universe type of movies. Overlord’s greatest strength is that it knows what it is.
It’s been a while since I had watched a movie that a) didn’t try to be the be-all, end-all of entertainment cinema or b) a super duper deep meditation on the meaning of life. Overlord just wants to be good and entertain us. It’s a throwaway, drive-in kind of movie that wasn’t made with any irony of annoying referentiality. It’s precise, self-contained and utterly predictable, which I believe it by design. Everyone will probably have forgotten about it in a year or so because it doesn’t have strong enough characters to become a cult classic, but it’s OK. Some movies are meant to be just a quick stop over.