Thursday 17 October 2019

Overlord review: Bonkers zombie b-movie will rattle your core

4 stars

Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt, stars in Overlord
Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt, stars in Overlord

Chris Wasser

Well, now, isn’t this all kinds of messed up. I could be cruel here and tell you that Overlord — a bonkers B-movie with a Hollywood-sized budget — is probably one of the silliest things we’ve seen this year.

We are, after all, dealing with a film in which a gang of American soldiers come face-to-face with a bunch of Nazi zombie lads, in a lab under a church in German-occupied France. Yep, it’s a different kind of war picture, this.

But I don’t want to be cruel. I’d rather be honest and tell you that Overlord is, in fact, a great laugh altogether. No, really. Allow me to repeat myself: Nazi zombie lads versus plucky Americans. Did I mention the fact that Wyatt Russell — son of Kurt — is the one who leads a charge against said Nazi zombie lads? Honestly, folks, if you’re not with me at this point, I’d politely ask that you leave the room.

We have the ubiquitous JJ Abrams to thank for bringing this barmy slice of war horror into our lives. Abrams produces Overlord, under his Bad Robot Productions banner. There were whispers that the film was to be the fourth instalment in the troubled and tedious Cloverfield franchise, but this turned out to be nothing more than a rotten rumour.

Jovan Adepo (r) in Overlord
Jovan Adepo (r) in Overlord

We should be thankful — one of the best things that Overlord has going for it is its self-contained screenplay. There is, unlike several other blockbusters released this year, a beginning, middle and end to this riotous tale. We need more of that.

We begin on the eve of D-Day in 1944. A gang of American paratroopers have just crash-landed on the outskirts of Normandy. Their mission? To destroy a German radio tower, for a start. But it’s not going to be easy: half the team was obliterated before they’d even landed. Plus, there are Nazis everywhere. To succeed, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and a handful of others, put their trust in a local villager named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who — all going well — should be able to help the boys jump the wall and get the job done.

Alas, the chaps get side-tracked. Long story short, the Nazis are doing experiments on humans, and it’s all going down underneath that aforementioned radio tower. The victims are in an awful state — we’re talking violent, zombie-like creatures, straight out of your nightmares.

Things go from bad to worse when a particularly aggressive officer, Dr Wafner (Pilou Asbæk, amping it up to 11), experiments on himself. It’s up to our American pals, then — and their new French friend — to put an end to the madness. See, I told you it was bananas.

Working with a tense screenplay, courtesy of Billy Ray and Mark L Smith, Australian director, Julius Avery — a man whose cinematic output has yet to trouble the mainstream — has, against all odds, come up with one of the most entertaining, major-studio horrors of the year.

Yes, Overlord is outrageous, violent, gory, absurd, upsetting and all the rest of it. It probably shouldn’t work quite as well as it does. I guess the difference here is that, even before a gang of undead German boys go chasing American GIs through dark corridors, Overlord is an engaging, well-acted and genuinely unnerving war picture. It’s clean, sharp and decidedly old-fashioned. It’s very well put together, basically.

In the authoritative Jovan Adepo (The Leftovers, Fences), we have a strong and watchable leading man. In Wyatt Russell, we have a charismatic, wide-eyed action hero who’s more than a chip off the old block.

Everyone comes with a catchphrase. The scary bits are genuinely scary. The whole thing is book-ended by a couple of fabulously choreographed action sequences. Indeed, this blistering horror will rattle you to your core.

I should probably say something about parking your brain at the door, and just enjoying this deliciously deranged genre piece for what it is. But, again, that would be kinda cruel. Besides, it takes a lot of skill to craft something this good out of something so ridiculous. See it on the biggest screen you can find.


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