Overlord Review: Grindhouse Minus the Grind
Overlord Review: Although he didn’t direct it, the influence of producer J.J. Abrams is felt all over the WWII horror film, and not always in a good way.
One day, there will probably be entire film classes dedicated to unraveling the mystery of J.J. Abrams. It’s not that his works are especially enigmatic or thought-provoking, but rather there need to be deep discussions over whether or not he’s any good.
Abrams has earned a solid reputation in Hollywood, and his name is attached to a lot of really good things – the Mission Impossible franchise, Westworld, Fringe, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and on. But on the other hand, his Star Trek reboots nearly caused a bloody civil war among Trekkers. His Star Wars debut was… fine? And his name is attached to just as many TV shows that no one cares about as shows that were hits (remember Almost Human?).
Still, he hasn’t really done anything that is outright bad (although expressing your support for Star Trek Into Darkness could get you stabbed at Comic-Con). He tends to shoot for the largest common denominator, and that tends to lead to projects that are just average, never good enough to really blow people away or bad enough to kill a franchise. In that, despite it being directed by Julius Avery and not Abrams, Overlord feels very much like an Abrams film.
On paper, Overlord is a simple, straightforward film that fits nicely into a growing subgenre. You got Nazis, you got monsters. What more do you need? But the film takes a lot longer than it should to lean into that idea. When it does, it’s spot on, but it wastes a lot of time getting there.
Overlord gets its name from “Operation Overlord,” the military designation for the invasion of Western Europe by Allied forces. The film starts at the cusp of the invasion, with a plane full of paratroops preparing to parachute into France the night before the bulk of the Allied troops hit the beach. Things don’t go as planned for the paratroopers though, and only a handful of soldiers led by a Corporal (Wyatt Russell) survive the insertion. They find themselves outnumbered and outgunned as they try to follow orders and destroy a church the Nazis are using as a base or risk the invasion failing.
With the help of a local French woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), the soldiers discover that the Nazis are experimenting on anyone they can get their hands in secret labs. The results are monstrous creations that are one part zombie, one part something much worse. It is a house of horrors, and the paratroops soon realize that their mission is much more important than they first thought.
While the leader of the soldiers is Cpl. Ford, the heart of the film is Private Boyd (Jovan Adepo), a man that is deemed too kind by his fellow soldiers. Kindness is not a welcome commodity in the war and especially not on this mission, but it gives him a moral compass that helps act as a fuel for some of the events of the film and helps set the stage for the climax. The film never addresses America’s shameful policy of segregating troops until 1948, nor does racism play a part, but that’s alright. It’s a movie about Nazi monsters.
One thing Overlord gets right is the casting. Adepo has all the makings of a star, and one day Russell may even have people not mention that he’s Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son. By the way, Russell is Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son. The performances are solid across the board (Ollivier and Pilou Asbaek stand out as well), but it’s the pacing that really lets them down.
From the opening title card, Overlord positions itself as a grindhouse movie, a gory, bloody, 70s-style romp pitting monsters against soldiers with D-Day as the backdrop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite go all in on that, which leaves it feeling like two, almost competing movies. The first is all war movie build-up. The soldiers make their way into the village near the church, then they slowly make their plans. For a film about Nazi monsters, it’s an… odd choice to waste more than half the film with the protagonists hiding in an attic.
There is some fun Nazi beating action with a captured officer named Wafner (Asbaek) thrown in, but there’s just so much padding on the film that it drags it down. Eventually, things pick up and Overlord finally starts to reach its potential, but it isn’t until deep into the movie. And when it does come, it’s over in a flash.
Where the first two-thirds of the film is basically just a war movie – and a kind of dull one at that – the third act is a horror movie in the vein of John Carpenter’s The Thing. There are some intense moments that are right on par with some of the better, recent horror movies – and not just jump scares, but legitimately tense moments where characters are a split second away from a grizzly end. It then concludes with a gory and brutal fight and a loud finale. It’s by far the best part of the movie, and it makes you wonder why the rest of the film didn’t go this direction to begin with.
There are a lot of good ideas at work, and the result is never bad. It’s also never as good as it could have been. So basically, it is like a lot of Abrams’ works. There are moments that like and play very well, but there’s not enough of it. There’s enough that you may find yourself wanting to like it, even if you are a bit disappointed.
Overlord Review Conclusion
Overlord seems like a really interesting idea that just didn’t have enough depth to it. The film wants to be over-the-top, but it doesn’t have enough to justify that and it just never fully commits. The finale is almost worth the price of admission, but not quite, and it’s hard not to watch it and wonder what might have been.
Overlord is rated R with a running time of 109 minutes.