Just the fact that this wasn’t a Cloverfield movie made me happy because…oof, that was a close one. Could have really messed this one up.
There’s a clever bit of marketing surrounding this film in that they focused hard on the zombies, but this is more of a war drama than anything else. There are Nazis and oppressed French villagers, a core unit of personalities in camouflage; all the highlights of something like Fury or Behind Enemy Lines are painted in broad strokes because this is kind of both of those movies mashed together. When we get into viruses and blood it turns out to be minimal but intense. This is a gross piece of good trash that sits on the palate like a tasty piece of candy that goes down and lingers for hours afterward. You feel a bit guilty but maybe that’s the point.
Overlord is the second film from director Julius Avery, an Aussie that is new to me and I’ve got very little to say about his back catalog because…it’s so small. He’s good though, and he’s shot this movie like the nonsense it needed to be. This feels like a particularly good video game campaign that lends itself to that sensation by working in back camera angles, over-the-shoulder shots, and nice wide shots that bounce off of the landscape and allow the blood to be flung around willy-nilly. It’s so goddamn fun to see and I couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face the whole time.
We drop into occupied France near D-Day, following a small unit that crashes into German-controlled territory and has to move on to a tower that needs a good blowing-up. There’s subterfuge, sneaking around, nervous and hard-breathing soldiers seeing violence for the first time, and there’s even some flirtation with a local girl by our lead character Boyce. Corporal Ford, played by Wyatt Russell of Black Mirror fame, is tasked with dragging these arch personalities through a war-torn city to complete their mission but things get complicated.
And that’s the film. Yeah, there’s a few scenes with viscerally destroyed nazi-zombie faces, but the bulk of this film is more akin to something you’d see bridging the river Kwai than in an apocalypse. Most of all, though, is seeing someone come of age by slaughtering their opponents.
I want to focus on actor Jovan Adepo here because this is his tale. Like the memoirs of Barack Obama, this is the tale of a young black man finding his identity in a community. Just because it happens to be set in Nazi occupied France with zombies does not negate Private Boyce’s journey to adulthood through mayhem and slaughter. He takes no glee in it, there’s no pleasure in the destruction, but the man has a job to do and he absolutely fulfills that obligation. His final lines, full of American piss and vinegar, embody the ideal of the B-movie in their sheer gratuitous nature. He’s a man out of time, a modern individual in a movie that wantonly cribs the scariest villains of the past century to engage in our oldest pastime – war.
Villainy is something we take for granted these days. People complain about the “Marvel problem,” the villains that have no depth and exist solely for evil. Their drive comes from an animalistic desire to simply cause harm to those around them, to take any ideological difference and use it as a means to achieve brutality. Boyce is the antithesis to these heroes, existing in a time when it isn’t okay to be several things and yet he find camaraderie in his fellows as they come together to destroy one evil that they can put a name to. The tower, a physical monument to the evil that lurks within mankind, houses access to a stream that grants eternal life in exchange for your soul. Whether engaged in the work of a holy lord or in the political ideals of fascism, they exist and we are tasked with fighting against their designs. Boyce fights it with brutality, coming to understand that there are things worse than Nazis in his world. Just because those things are rapist zombie Nazis doesn’t take away from what they represent.
And Overlord embraces those things in the fashion of our best horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. This is a makeout movie, sure. You’re supposed to be able to look away for…ahem…something that might interest you more than the plot. And that’s the point. You can look away, have a good time and enjoy yourself, but when you look back that shit is still right there. It’s in this trashy B-movie down to its bones, in the structure and purpose itself. You don’t want to miss a minute, but if you do it’s fine because that will all be there when you look up at the screen and remember that this is all unavoidable. It happens next to you, down the street from you, in the next room. And we’re meant to explore it and be horrified by it. Why wouldn’t you be, it’s the total destruction of a human being (or several, in the case of what Captain Wafner calls the “thousand year Reich”) and that is just…abominable.
Sometimes…dead is better.