“Three Months Ago, I Was Cutting Grass On My Front Yard. The Mailman Shows up With a Letter From the Army. Now, I’m Here, and I Have No Idea Where I’m Going to End Up.” – Private. Edward Boyce
Initially thought to be the fourth instalment in the Cloverfield franchise, an anthology-like series featuring the projects of Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox. Producer J.J Abrams later confirmed at New York City CinemaCon in 2018 that the war-horror hybrid flick, Overlord, would not be part of the series, despite being produced under the same production company, Bad Robot Productions. In a similar vein to the Cloverfield franchise, however, Overlord frequently appears disjointed and underwhelming in its effort to combine many diverse genres and ideas in a World War II gore-fest.
Plot Summary: On the eve of D-Day, a squad of American paratroopers is dropped behind enemy lines with the mission of penetrating the walls of a fortified local church and destroying the radio-jamming tower inside. But, as the soldiers approach their target, they soon discover that the Nazis are conducting a series of ungodly experiments in a hidden laboratory beneath the church. Experiments that could change the tide of the Second World War…
Evidently inspired by the renowned video game multiplayer mode, Call of Duty: Zombies. Overlord, directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun, Samaritan), grounds its absurdist story around a real military operation; “Operation: Overlord,” a code name for the Allied mission for the Battle of Normandy, which launched the successful invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. This procedure, alongside “Operation: Neptune,” would become known as D-Day. This connection to the factual history of World War II does add some depth to the narrative, in addition to playing into a number of conspiracy theories regarding Nazi experimentation and the classified missions many American soldiers embarked upon during the Second World War. However, a downside to this sort of approach is that Overlord is repeatedly in a tonal conflict with itself, as the first hour of the runtime is a largely straightforward war epic, whilst the final half-hour is a plethora of blood, bullets and superhuman, zombie-like creatures. As such, the film feels as if it’s split into two halves, both at odds with each other. Still, at least Overlord ditches the irritating use of storytelling mystery boxes, a J.J. Abrams staple.
While the performances of Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro and Pilou Asbæk continually range from serviceable to immensely hammy. The dialogue and characterisation throughout Overlord are somehow much worse, often coming across as cheesy, and in the case of the characterisation, wildly inconsistent. For example, Private. Edward Boyce is initially portrayed as quiet, nervous and hesitant to kill. But, as the runtime continues, Boyce soon changes his disposition almost entirely to become confident and adept on the battlefield, having no issue killing others, all without any semblance of a character arc. Corporal. Lewis Ford suffers from a different issue as the squad’s ruthless leader, wanting to ensure that his unit completes its mission at any cost. Yet, his no-nonsense attitude and bleak outlook are never explained beyond the reasoning of ‘war changes people.’
Primarily relying on hand-held mid-shots and close-ups, many of Overlord‘s finest shots can be seen whenever the squad are outdoors amongst the burning fields and aircraft-filled skies of the small French village where their target resides. Outside of these outdoor shots, the cinematography by Laurie Rose isn’t all that impressive. However, the various sets and locations chosen for the film are rather impressive, appearing period-accurate and extremely unsanitary in regard to the undisclosed Nazi laboratory and connecting subterranean access tunnels.
When it comes to the original score by Jed Kurzel, tracks like Mist Patrol, Devil Dogs, Approaching the Church and Re-Animation, do a respectable job of adding to the tension and brutality of many scenes, yet rarely feel distinguishable or noteworthy by themselves. The film’s end credits song; Bridging the Gap by Naz, is also a peculiar choice given that the well-known jazz-rap song doesn’t fit the time period, tone or even location of Overlord on account of its lyrical references to Mississippi and New York City.
On a more positive note, unlike many modern horror releases, Overlord actually features a reasonable amount of practical effects. One scene in which practical effects were utilised is the opening sequence, which sees soldiers leaping from a burning aircraft as it plummets to the ground. This thrilling moment was accomplished by rigging an aircraft-themed set on a tilting gimbal and then having stuntmen tumble through real flames via its back portion. Sadly, however, many of these effect-filled sequences are somewhat tainted by the film’s need to place CG enchantments on top of its practical effects. Most of which make many of the effects (including a gruesome scene in which a soldier’s neck snaps back so quickly bones pierce out of his chest) appear as if they were achieved purely through CGI.
In summary, when it was first announced many years ago, Overlord seemed practically destined for cult status, appealing to fanatics of war epics, zombie thrillers and gory, low-budget horror flicks alike. But, looking at it now, it’s clear that Overlord doesn’t fully dedicate itself to its bonkers premise, preferring to be a predominately solemn war piece instead of the outrageous, violent homage to the niche horror subgenre of Nazi zombies. As a result, whether it’s your first viewing or your fifth, it’s hard not to wonder how much stronger Overlord would’ve been should it have stuck the landing. Rating: low 4/10.