Friday 14 December 2018

Film Review: Overlord

It's the Allied Forces versus a horde of hungry Nazi zombies – that premise alone should entice, but the execution of Julius Avery's Overlord will have genre fans salivating. 

Produced by JJ Abrams' Bad Robot Productions and directed by West Australian filmmaker Julius Avery, Overlord offers stripped-back B-movie thrills with all of the frills that come with a decent studio budget. It's the kind of 'midnight screening on a Friday' escapism that Bad Robot does so well, particularly through its Cloverfield series – which Overlord was rumoured to be a part of throughout its production.

The story centres around the Normandy landings in June 1944. The night before D-Day, a cohort of American paratroopers are dropped into France with a top secret mission; to destroy a radio tower that could present an issue for the Allies during the big push. However, the brave band of brothers – Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Ford (Wyatt Russell), Tibbet (John Magaro) and Chase (Iain De Caestecker) – soon find themselves facing a foe far nastier than mere Nazis; zombies.

Mashing together zombies and a Second World War setting is something we've seen before in videogames (most notably, the Call of Duty franchise, where the player faces off against wave after wave of the undead), and now film is having a crack at it as well. Overlord stitches the two together well, with the first half of the film playing it fairly straight with nary a zombie in sight. This gives the film time to establish its protagonists and give us a reason to care about them – especially Boyce, Ford and Chloe (Mathilde Olliveier), a young French girl whose parents were subjected to grisly experiments at the hands of the Germans.

The genre pivot isn't as quick or as sudden as something like From Dusk Til Dawn, which transitions from Quentin Tarantino to Robert Rodriguez in the blink of an eye. After a couple of early hints that something ain't quite right with that spooky German castle on the hill, the dark horror terrorising the French villagers that live in its shadow starts to sink in.

By the time we reach the third act, all hell has let loose – and Avery stages the action and the gore with aplomb. Rated R18+ here in Australia, Overlord isn't afraid to spill guts or slash throats. So while things get pretty gory towards the end, it never feels messy or hard to follow. Most impressive (on top of the direction, editing and choreography) are the special effects, both makeup and digital. On a modest budget, Avery has served up a feast of gruesome beasts and effective action beats.

The writing doesn't let the side down either; big or small, all of the key characters – Boyce, Ford, Chloe, Tibbet – get clearly illustrated arcs from point A to point B. It's tight, economical storytelling that doesn't lose its way or waste an inch.

The Verdict: 8/10

Greater than the sum of its parts, Overlord is an effective, schlocky, no-nonsense horror that ticks all the boxes genre fans are looking for.

Overlord is in cinemas across Australia now.

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