Review: Overlord (2018)
In the decades following the conflict, World War II films have became a sub-genre of their own. From the immediate post-war tales of bravery, to the grand adventure films of the ’50s and ’60s, the more nihilistic looks at the war from the New Hollywood era, and the big budget action flicks à la Saving Private Ryan, the war, particularly the Western front circa ’44-’45, is one of the most heavily visited settings in modern cinema. It’s in this more modern tradition that Overlord roots itself in, attempting to feel like a combination of a serious and impactful war drama, and a cheesy horror flick. It does, but in doing so it takes on many of the strengths and weaknesses of both of the genres, and while there’s little in the film that isn’t executed with a degree of competency there’s many point where these two styles clash in an exceedingly unsatisfying way.
Overlord doesn’t particularly work as a war film. All the action of the film is garish and over-exaggerated, with bullets leaving long red tracer light trails and taking chunks off buildings, and firefights occurring at exceedingly close range with ridiculously stacked odds and even more ridiculous outcomes. It isn’t a problem during the sequences where the film commits to the horror side of it, but it’s evident that the film wants to try to look at the reality and the morality of it’s setting. It’s quite reminiscent of Fury; both films want to be this glorious crusade against waves of Nazi Übermensch, but also pull the sympathy card and have their protagonists sadly reflect on all the killing. You can’t do it with Nazis, they’re just too absurdly evil to even pretend to care about, and you especially can’t do it with the Nazis in this film, who abduct villagers and collect the bodies of American paratroopers for horrible medical experiments. It doesn’t stop the film from trying, but it does leave the attempts at introspective moments feeling flat and useless.
Adding on to this are a whole host of problems with the writing and the acting. The script and the characters are a series of WWII film cliches, with everyone from the smart mouthed American soldier to the monologue prone German officer and even the pretty French girl who sneaks around the streets at night making an appearance. This extends to the premise as well; much like Michael Mann’s The Keep, it’s an interesting premise and setting that the film forgets to engage with and develop all too often. Most of the acting is fine, save for the lead Jovan Adepo. Part of it is his character being painfully naive and making decisions that completely undercut the intended severity of the situation, but his performance lacks pathos, and even during the more emotionally intense moments he never feels as if he’s invested in anything that’s happening around him. Fortunately for most of the film he’s accompanied by Wyatt Russell, without a doubt the star of the film, channelling the gruff and and cool groove that’s perfect for the film.
Truthfully, a lot of these problems turn into strengths when the film goes full on genre flick. Suddenly the cheesy writing and overuse of cliches become fun, and visually the film is exciting enough to hold your interest, especially when highlighting the fantastic set design of the underground lab and the cramped attic. The visual effects are good with a few noticeable dips in quality and the art design is a touch pedestrian but it does it’s job well. There is too many jump scares, and by the end of the second act they’ve lost all their flavour, but to the films credit it does a great job in building the tension leading up to them, and many of the scares aren’t just false stars and actually function as transitions into action scenes, which keeps the pacing succinct and stops the film from being boring. Overlord isn’t boring; it’s definitely not the most exciting film and it doesn’t quite do it’s premise justice, but it works as an decently enjoyable B movie even if it makes a vain attempt to be a lot more.