After October 31st, we are almost forced by our surroundings to flip a switch directly into Christmas mode. Every store brings out their holiday-themed items, several radio stations clean the dust off of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and play it on what seems like a loop, and studios begin to roll out their Christmas films like The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and The Grinch. For those of us still wallowing in the humbug, there’s a holdout Halloween film to help ease the transition. In all of its gory grindhouse glory, Overlord delivers horror movie thrills with old Hollywood frills.
Overlord is the best type of mindless fun Screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith develop a world right out of a video game, with a basic story to go with it. Like a typical video of the same genre, the hero of the film isn’t the writing or the storycraft, but the shoot’em action sequences. Ray and Smith take a page out of any war film and copy and paste characters that are meant to fit the most rudimentary of human characteristics. People who are meant to represent the head, the heart, the fist, the female, etc.
Nothing special goes into the creation of these characters, but they are competently done nonetheless. They hit all the right notes and make the audience feel exactly what the writers want them to feel. Everyone’s motivation may be one dimensional, but at least it is clear to anyone watching. The problem that Ray and Smith come across is when they attempt to inject some profundity into this live-action version of Call of Duty zombies.
Overlord was never going to be the film that makes you examine the past horrors of humanity, or even the monstrous nature of war and the effects it has on the soldiers. So when it tries its hand on some deep message or genuine emotional moments, it rings cheap because revelations like that are earned through nuanced development that this film is sorely lacking. The loudest message it does deliver is one that, unfortunately, due to recent political developments, bears repeating, and that is that Nazis are always the enemy.
The game plays out like the video game love child of Wolfenstein and Resident Evil, with all sorts of creatures coming out of the literal woodwork. This is Julius Avery’s second time directing a feature, but unlike his first film, Son of a Gun, he blends pieces of the old Hollywood war film aesthetic into a grindhouse horror. The sheer amount of gore would be off-putting if it weren’t integrated into the film so well. It also doesn’t hurt that the film relies much more on practical effects and subtle CGI over glaring green screen. The reason Overlord is a breezy watch is thanks in huge part to the film’s constant, brisk pacing. Much like Avery does in his first film, this one keeps the audience in a constant state of attention with the way it creates a fog of mystique and intrigue that envelopes us, even when no fighting is on the screen.
Individually, each performance is solid as each character performs their assigned role. Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk, John Magaro, and Iain De Caestecker each play their respective parts perfectly, make sure each character has just enough depth to keep them likable. It isn’t until they team up, near the film’s explosive climax, that you move from only tolerating them to truly enjoying them. The fight choreography helps win us over even further. Even though you won’t find the events in this film in any history book, it is still well worth a view. Sometimes you just need to destress with some fictional monsters that distract you from the real monsters in our everyday lives.