Part military sci-fi and part laboratory-horror, Overlord is a comprehensive mess that squanders any hope of enjoyment. While it’s not quite Call of Duty: Zombies – The Movie (for better or worse), Julius Avery’s attempted romp ultimately aims its sights at too many targets, and in doing so immures itself to a generic limbo.
Catapulting us into the action from minute one, Avery immediately introduces us to the squad of paratroopers. What follows is an impressively numb delineation of every cliché in the ensemble book: the mouthy New Yorker (John Magaro), the unhinged veteran (Wyatt Russell), and the adorable camera-wielding dweeb (Iain De Caestecker). Least interesting of all, unfortunately, is Jovan Adepo’s apprehensive-rookie-but-morally-immaculate hero, Boyce.
Their cargo plane blitzed into oblivion, Boyce and co. frantically descend into the night of battle in a skydiving sequence that feels more like a quick-time event on your PlayStation (hold ✕ and △ to avoid debris) than an engaging cinematic set-piece. A painfully thunderous sound design greets these images in a brutal offense on both our eardrums and cognitive sanity – desperately striving for immersion, but in the end nothing more than a battering ordeal.
Upon landing, the squadron fortunately stumble across Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a local scavenger whose French village is currently host to German soldiers. She takes the group in for the night, sharing a roof with her prepubescent brother and a mysterious aunt that has been left monstrously disfigured by the Nazi scientists. When Chloe is forcefully propositioned by Nazi officer Wafner (Game of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk), Boyce impulsively intervenes. Upon interrogation about their ungodly experiments, Wafner reveals that the Nazis plan to reanimate the dead, because “a thousand-year Reich needs a thousand years’ soldiers”.
Asbæk is admirably menacing as the evil Nazi officer, if a little thin – lumped with tired laboratory-horror lines like “they have been given a new purpose”, showing him up as just another sterile villain with a god complex. The demonic creations of their experiments, meanwhile, are as route one as can be; the climactic monster ends up being your standard vein-popping, ugly, green bastard – an awfully boring concoction that rivals X-Men: Origins’ Deadpool in botched executions.
Russell, so impressive in Black Mirror’s “Playtest”, here never manages to channel his father’s genre-movie expertise, instead laden with the very worst of macho warfare dialogue. His paltry one-liners range from the laughable “Yeah? Well friends die!”, to “I have to finish this!!!” – the age-old nadir of manly war cries.
There’s something to admire in Overlord, but despite occasional awareness of this inanity, the film is perhaps most frustrating in that it desperately vies for something more. Rather than embracing its inherent absurdity and going full-throttle into B-movie gear, it equally wants to claim dramatic weight. This is to its detriment – its various emotional beats never once landing, and its mindless action suffering as a consequence.
Its groan-inducing finale descends into Nazi gore porn (exploding skulls, flamethrowers, the works), an uber masculine catastrophe that doesn’t know when to climax. Coupled with an uninspired brass score, this dismal denouement tries to force us into exhilaration – instead showing itself up as popcorn entertainment without the kernel.
Dir: Julius Avery
Scr: Billy Ray, Mark L. Smith
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk
Prod: J.J. Abrams, Lindsey Weber
DOP: Laurie Rose
Music: Jed Kurzel
Runtime: 110 minutes
Overlord is in UK cinemas now.