“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Overlord

For me OVERLORD was the definition of a time killer, because I needed to be out of my apartment for fumigation at 10 and at work by 3 and the movie I actually wanted to see wasn’t playing in a time slot that worked for that, but this was. So happy Veteran’s Day, OVERLORD, and thank you for your service in filling that window with okay-though-arguably-making-light-of-the-real-atrocities-of-WWII entertainment.

This is a Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams) production of that old usually-low-budget-horror saw of the soldiers who come across monsters, zombies or demons created or summoned by Nazi mad scientists or occultists. In this case they’re doing a Universal Soldier, trying to turn dead bodies into soldiers. Of course in this case they’re using their own victims. I guess that’s positive that they don’t have enough people who believe in their insidious ideology – they have to manufacture them.

The movie spends most of its time on the regular American non-super soldiers, and this is its strength. The night before D-Day, a team of army paratroopers is sent to destroy a German radio tower in an old church, but their plane is shot down and they have to hide out and make alternate plans. The lead is Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo, FENCES, mother!), whose warrior status is questioned due to unusually high levels of compassion. Your standard war movie loud-mouthed Italian-American New Yorker (John Magaro, THE BRAVE ONE, MY SOUL TO TAKE) tries to humiliate Boyce by telling a story that instead makes him seem more heroic and interesting.

He’s a good, quiet presence, though his spotlight is often stolen by the cynical tough guy Corporal Ford, played by Wyatt Russell (WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, COLD IN JULY, INGRID GOES WEST), channeling his dad’s action hero mode more than his usual flaky goofball roles.

Remember in SOLDIER how they show Kurt Russell as a kid and you go holy shit that kid really does look like Kurt Russell and then you see on the credits that it’s Kurt Russell’s son and that’s why? Well, that is the reason in the future I will be saying “Wyatt Russell (SOLDIER).”

Also did you notice that OVERLORD rhymes with OVERBOARD, a movie starring Wyatt’s parents? That’s weird. For more information on Wyatt Russell, check out the BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA commentary track (I think that’s the right one), in which Kurt and John Carpenter get off track and keep talking about his kid’s hockey team.

So anyway this squad gets stranded behind enemy lines, but they still intend to fulfill their mission of blowing up the tower to aid in the impending air attack. And they quickly learn that the church is also the site of mysterious activities. Experiments, maybe.

They also meet Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier, UNTITLED FEMALE DRIVEN WW II SPY THRILLER), an at first reluctant, ultimately sympathetic local who hides them in her attic for the few hours before they can attack. Maybe I imagined it, but I thought they said her last name was Laurent, which made me think the writers (BILLY RAY [COLOR OF NIGHT] and Mark L. Smith [VACANCY, THE REVENANT]) had INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS on their minds. I know I did. I also thought about BLACK BOOK during the intense thriller sequences of the Americans hiding and watching, trying to resist the urge to intervene as sadistic SS officers including Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbaek, LUCY, BEN-HUR, THE GREAT WALL, GHOST IN THE SHELL) come in to torment Chloe and her little brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). By the way, they live with an aunt, barely seen, and looking like a monster due to a Nazi procedure. I only knew from the credits that she was played by THEY LIVE‘s Meg Foster. [update: and then I only knew from Bevan Shortridge on Twitter that it’s not the same Meg Foster from THEY LIVE.]

Unfortunately I found the horror aspects less compelling than the war movie ones. But there’s some good atmosphere and some well executed sequences, though. There’s a sequence where Boyce needs to hide and jumps into what turns out to be a truck full of dead bodies. And then he gets driven in and it’s one of those sequences I enjoy where the hero is basically getting a tour of all the horrible shit he’s not supposed to know about.

I guess I just wish it went crazier, though. The makeup and digital effects are well done, but ultimately we’re talking some pretty generic disfigured-super-strength guys, even though an earlier scene where they found some weird animal remains in the forest seemed to imply something cooler. I guess I prefer the similar but more over-the-top characters in the RESIDENT EVIL series. And even a low budget version of this subgenre like FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY can stand out by putting effort and imagination into the monsters. I don’t get why this bigger budget version doesn’t seem to be trying very hard.

I was happy to see Bokeem Woodbine (PANTHER, THE ROCK, THE BIG HIT, BLACK DYNAMITE, THE BUTCHER, RIDDICK, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING) in here, of course playing a macho yelling sergeant guy. So he gets to take a few chomps at the scenery. (SPOILER) But I wish he was playing a guy who survives most of the movie.

I did like the (SPOILER) gung ho ending, where they pretty much saved the human race and then they go right back into regular presumably non-mad-science-related battle. Sure, got rid of those mutant creatures, but they’re not gonna go home before they get Hitler!

By the way, if you saw the trailer that was set to AC/DC or something and wondered if this was a KNIGHT’S TALE type deal with an unconventional combination of period story and rock ‘n roll, the answer is no. The end credits, though, uses fonts and art inspired by WWII propaganda over a blues-inspired Nas song called “Bridging the Gap.” The aesthetic juxtaposition would be easy to understand if the song related to the movie, but this is all Nas talking about his childhood in Queensbridge and his father Olu Dara Jones (who sings the chorus) teaching him to love the blues. The song – which was already used in A PROPHET and CADILLAC RECORDS – sounds good blasting in a movie theater, but I have gone over the lyrics and I have no clue what made them use it in this movie. Did they upload the wrong file or something?

Director Julius Avery previously did a bunch of shorts and the 2014 crime movie SON OF A GUN. Next he’s supposed to do FLASH GORDON.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 3rd, 2018 at 12:03 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Overlord”

  1. I saw this with a group who loved it but it didn’t do too much for me. Felt what it was building up to wasn’t that spectacular to justify it taking it’s sweet time getting there. Didn’t hate it though.

  2. I agree. This was a perfectly serviceable film alotted to around 2 hours. The stuff it does right, it does quite well. But if you saw the trailer you’d be disappointed that’s all there us.

    Still the actors do fine jobs ans the war stuff before the monster stuff is compelling in its own right. Worth a view on its inevitable TNT run.

  3. Absolutely hated this, which genuinely came as a surprise as I like war movies, zombie movies, and there’s been loads of Bad Robot movies I liked.

    I think there was a bit of a tonal issue – like if the Nazi is a rapist please don’t also make him a zombie. It wasn’t quite a broad or crazy enough film to balance that sort of opposition of tones for me. It was also way too loud, and I was not keen on that one random really annoying character that all these movies have. You know the one, I forget his name. Shrill dickhead character.

    Also bugged me for days that they showed us this moaning head on a spine – multiple times – and no one picked it up and beat the shit out of anyone with it, even though they have a fight in that exact room. Chekov’s gun really, if you’ve got it you better use it.

  4. I liked it well enough, but kind of felt the same about the horror parts. I couldn’t help wondering during the movie if, “I might be way more into this if it were in glorious Black and White.”

  5. Don’t worry, I will spare you of the long rant about how much it pisses me off these days, when real life atrocities are getting exploited for fun popcorn entertainment like this, WONDER WOMAN or whatever video game turns any kind of non-fictional war into a hunt for high scores. But seriously. I’m too old and grumpy for dat shit and even kinda blame INDIANA JONES and co for the normalization of Nazis.

  6. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 4th, 2018 at 3:37 am

    Perfect timing on this review, as I just went to see this last night (with my mom, as she loves horror but can’t watch anything at home because my dad hates it). Also interesting that everyone on here seems to agree it wasn’t anything special, just a decent time killer that didn’t go far enough in any direction to stand out in any way. Competently made, but just super forgettable. Interesting how a film like that managed to snag a 90% rating on RT. My mom liked it though.

    PS: VENOM, the other film I watched recently, while much more shoddily put together, actually provided way more entertainment value than this. Never would’ve expected that.

  7. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 4th, 2018 at 3:40 am

    Wait, was looking at the wrong OVERLORD on RT. The score is actually 82% – still too high imho.

  8. Gaul, this is what I loathe about review aggregators- something that is brilliant but controversial (or just “not for everyone”) will often appear around 50% due to equal numbers of positive and negative reviews. Conversely, a movie that is utterly forgettable, but not unpleasant, can often get to the 90% range, even if no one cared for it very strongly. That’s why I suggest you use my system: if Vern liked it, I will see it.

  9. CJ, I’m curious: would you consider LOOK WHO’S BACK to be an example of Nazi normalization, or a film about the phenomenon of Nazi normalization?

  10. oh jeeze, sorry for the finger slip. Continuing-

    Renfield- personally, I do think the overall takeaway from LOOK WHO’S BACK is about how making Hitler a figure of fun can let people overlook the atrocities of the Nazi regime. It’s been a few years since I saw it, but doesn’t it basically end with Hitler as a beloved celebrity looking to rebuild his “brand” after the guy who made him famous is locked up?

    More broadly, while I think movies and stories that add fantastical or supernatural elements to real-life atrocities can definitely be in bad taste, I think it’s just human nature to make them up. We love stories, we love telling them and re-telling them, and putting our own spin on old stories, so it just makes sense that instinct gets mixed up with history stories too. I guess I don’t really think it’s a good OR a bad thing- it’s just an inevitable result of people being story-machines. Or, to quote the late Buster Scruggs, “I figure that’s just the human material, and him that finds in it cause for anger and dismay is just a fool for expecting better.”

  11. The Kurgan, you roughly describe the events of the film, but I think the fact that Hitler is able to rebrand himself and regain popular favor is supposed to come across as a scathing criticism of the culture that would permit such a thing, eg ours.

    I kinda suspect it is a film that agrees with CJ, that the trivialization of Nazis in popular culture is a really fucking bad idea. But films dance on the line of enacting the thing they are ostensibly criticizing, so I dunno.

    It’s kind of an inverse of what THE BOONDOCKS did when it imagined what MLK might be treated like in the modern era.

  12. Wonder Woman is more egregious to me, taking the most horrific war in history and having Gal Gadot doing slow motion kicks and shit on regular German soldiers set to rock guitar Hans Zimmer music. I found it disgusting.

    Making a WW2 movie about taking down a diabolical unit of elite SS soldiers conducting experiments on prisoners is a lot less glaring to me. I mean if that bothers you, then so would Indiana Jones.

  13. renfield- oh I definitely agree that LOOK WHO’S BACK means it as a criticism for sure, sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    Reflecting on this a little more, I think I actually have some similar feelings about this but from a different direction- it really bugs me when stuff like the pyramids or Stonehenge or whatever is depicted as ultimately the work of some kind of alien or god or something, specifically because I think it’s really smug, self-centered way to think about history- to imagine that, because people lived a long time ago, they simply couldn’t be smart enough to make something wonderful or impressive to modern eyes. People are really fucking smart, actually, even in the past, and I think it’s so much more interesting to embrace our shared history of innovation than to pretend aliens did it.

    By the same token, I can absolutely see the argument that pawning off some of history’s worst crimes on werewolves or whatever puts too much of a comfortable distance between ourselves and what we’re capable of- there’s definitely value in taking ownership of the fact that there’s no real boogymen, no gods, no monsters- just us and everything we can be, good and bad.

  14. I haven’t seen LOOK WHO’S BACK (it’s on my list of currently 796 movies that I own, but haven’t seen yet), but from what I’ve heard, it seems to make fun of the “Hitler as popculture mascot” trope.

    parapa: I 100% agree about WONDER WOMAN and its “Hey, WW1 was caused by the comic book version of a greek god/isn’t it cool how our heroine kills a bunch of soldiers who in this case were brainwashed to be evil and in reality most likely didn’t even want to be there in the first place?” And it’s weird that such a tone deaf movie received such high amount of praise.

    Movies like OVERLORD or INDIANA JONES? I mean, they portray the Nazis as bad guys, so that’s cool. But it’s still a bit icky if the horrible shit that Mengele and co did in the real world is reduced to a fun splatter movie about fantasy creatures. The INDIANA JONES movies are a bit easier to digest, but recently I really had some trouble to enjoy seeing the most likely most evil human beings in history being reduced to 1-dimensional cannon fodder. I mean, who doesn’t like to see Nazis die, but if you think about it, it was just another step from “Never forget the atrocities of the 3rd Reich” to “Nazis are fun, aren’t they?”

    Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should feel bad for enjoying movies like OVERLORD or INDIANA JONES. And the whole “normalization through popculture” is way more complicated than I make it look in this comment section, where I kinda reduce it to “It’s Hollywood’s fault, think of the children!”. But I’m sure way too many people will think of Indy or quote random Adult Swim cartoons, instead of the horrors of the Holocaust, when you ask them about Nazis.

    For example a while ago someone asked on a message board for a German SciFi convention if it would be okay to show up in Nazi uniforms, because they wanted to cosplay as characters from IRON SKY! It’s cool that they were at least unsure enough to ask first for permission, but goddammit people! What makes someone think: “Hey, if I dress up as Nazi, walk like that through a big city, including a huge international airport that is right next to the hotel where the convention takes place, in a country where Nazi symbols are banned, nothing bad will happen, because I’m not REALLY playing Nazi, but just cosplaying one from the wacky NAZIS ON THE MOON movie”!?

  15. To answer Vern’s question about WONDER WOMAN (which he seemed to have accidentally posted in the ROBIN HOOD thread): If Diana didn’t kill any of the soldiers, she sure as hell didn’t stop any of her friends from doing so. Also I remember the whole battlescene ending with her jumping into a curchtower where a sniper was hiding and making the whole thing explode. And I didn’t see the sniper jump out of it alive on a parachute, like in a SPEED RACER cartoon. (However feel free to correct me about anything I just said, if someone here remembers the whole thing better than us)

    And yeah, of course they were the bad guys. We even saw them trying to kill and/or enslave a whole village just for fun, but then, turning something that definitely happened more than once in several wars (minus the superhero intervention) into a show-offy special effect showcase for the popcorn crowd AND in the end reveal that the at that point biggest war in history was just caused by a comic book god and all evil soldiers were just magically brainwashed and the war just stopped when the villain was defeated, is just…sheesh. And don’t get me started on the long, drawn out scenes of people getting gassed by the other main villains, who were apparently based on real people!

    Again, let me point out that I’m aware of how I’m kinda morally simplyfying the whole “real world atrocities as popcorn entertainment” thing on here and I don’t say that you shouldn’t enjoy the OVERLORDs of film history and that you are horrible people if you enjoy them. I just did recently a lot of thinking about how that shit is used for entertainment and how the world went from decades of “Don’t be a Nazi” to “Well, maybe we should hear what they have to say and what is the worst that would happen if we would let them into our governments?” again and how this coincidentally happened during a time when Hitler became an easy punchline on Adult Swim and we get every year a new video game that promises to be “the most realistic depiction of war”, but without all the stuff that makes it horrible.

  16. But CJ…that’s not what happened. Ares specifically says humanity did this to themselves. He gave a nudge here and there in his human form but no one was brainwashed. Defeating him doesn’t stop the war. The ongoing peace process does. It’s the entire point of the movie, for Diana to realize that humans don’t need the gods’ help to do evil. She has a big crying scene about it. Chris Pine has to sacrifice himself to help her forgive humanity. It’s kind of a big deal. The point is a bit muddled by her having to fight Ares anyway, but it’s a superhero movie, what do you expect? She’s gotta fight someone.

  17. I always just figured Ares’ “nudges” to humanity mostly consisted of ensuring his little mustache would always be fashionable up until his death, at which point his evil grip on the minds of men was finally loosened.

  18. Still weird how after Ares defeat we see soldiers being all “Woah, what just happened, why were we fighting?” The muddled message was IMO a bit more than just WW defeating a comic book end boss.

  19. I’m not gonna defend the movie too aggressively because I think it’s overpraised in general and all the Ares stuff in particular is pretty weak. But the film clearly tries to combat exactly the problem you’re complaining about. I agree with you that rewriting the evils of human history as the work of mystical jiggerypokery is a bad use of storytelling, but there are enough legitimate cases of this phenomenon that should be focused on before WONDER WOMAN.

  20. Yeah, but WW was a breaking point for me*, it’s still a pretty recent example and while I wouldn’t use it as “the worst” or highly relevant to the point that I’m trying to make (I mean, there aren’t even Nazis in it!), we also shouldn’t ignore it because others did it first.

    *Most likely triggered by watching it after ABRAHAM LINCOLN KILLS VAMPIRES, which has the premise that slavery was just a cover up for vampire activity and starts with the whipping of a black kid, that is filmed like a super cool action moment, slow-mo CGI whip going at the camera included, but judging by this and WANTED, Timur Bekmambetov is maybe just an asshole

  21. I get it. Sometimes a symptom of the disease is the trigger that sets you off. As the guy who spent like a thousand words ragging on the remix culture trappings of HALLOWEEN2018, a movie he kind of enjoyed at the time, I very much understand.

  22. I do think it’s a very good thing that these days we spend some time seriously thinking about what our pop culture is saying, and if we’re OK with the message it’s presenting. It’s a complicated thing to struggle with, because, after all, it’s not like watching an episode of HOGAN’S HEROES would turn some normal person into a cold-blooded fascist. But then again, the stories we tell do, cumulatively, help shape the way we see the world. If art didn’t have the power to change people’s minds –for better or for worse– it wouldn’t be important. I don’t think art necessarily has to be moral, or that it’s art’s responsibility to teach us good morals or even reflect reality. But I still want people to think about what they’re saying and weigh their responsibility a little more than it seems like the producers of OVERLORD did.

    Also, considering OVERLORD (1975) is arguably one of the greatest WWII films ever made, also can we think of another name for this movie about Nazi zombies, guys, please?

  23. Subtlety, I get it. If I would call for a ban on real-world-tragedysploitation movies, it would lead down to a slippery slope, probably right down to the point where the next GREAT DICTATOR or TO BE OR NOT TO BE could never be made. And I also believe that it’s (most of the time) not the storyteller’s job to spoonfeed a moral or the story’s meaning to the audience. The audience should be able to figure shit out by themself. But I also have to constantly think of Dave Chapelle, who quit his own show when he realized that he overestimated the intelligence of a huge part of his audience.

    For example I do believe that SOUTH PARK played a huge part in the modern normalization of Nazis and anti-semitism, since after all one of the show’s protagonists spends pretty much every episode making anti-semitic remarks and sometimes trying to start a new Holocaust. But on the other hand, Cartman was always positioned as the dumbass of the group, whose plans always backfire and he fully deserved it, for being such an asshole. Parker & Stone may be often ambigous about their believes, but they always made clear where they stand on Cartman’s Nazi worship. On the other, other hand, his remarks and Holocaust fantasies are supposed to be something we should laugh at. Not in a “Ha ha, discriminating Jews is funny” way, but in a “Ha ha, I can’t believe he said that” way. Most people understand that, but just like with Archie Bunker (or his German version Alfred Tetzlaff) back in the days, too many people think he tells it like it is or, which might be even worse, think it’s okay to repeat it without the context of ” the guy who said it is supposed to be an asshole”, because if they can say it on TV, why can’t I. In some way I hold Parker and Stone responsible for it, but on the other hand it’s not their fault, when some people are that stupid!

    Like I said: Complicated shit, that hopefully some much smarter people than me will take care of soon.

  24. CJ — Funny you brought up Chappelle, I was just going to do the same thing, since he’s a perfect encapsulation of what we’re talking about on both sides. As you say, he actually quit his show when he realized that some people were taking the wrong message, laughing at least in part with the racist characters rather than at them. But recently he also took quite a lot of heat for his stand-up which has some real trans-phobic bits in there. Of course, I think these bits are interesting in that it’s not just that he’s ranting about about how trans women are gross, but he’s examining himself and the degree to which the culture has somewhat passed him by and left him trying to adjust. But on the other hand, there’s absolutely no question that someone who likes Chappelle could watch his stand-up and feel empowered to act like an asshole to trans people and make their already difficult lives a lot harder.

    My gut is that Chappelle is a guy who always tries to take on difficult issues directly as a way to help us understand them, which I find incredibly useful, even if it sometimes leaves him open to misinterpretation. I think the act of watching him self-interrogate about being a 40-something black man finding himself somewhat behind the times has a raw honesty which I find fascinating. But on the other hand, I know a handful of transgendered people, at least one of whom felt really deeply betrayed by his most recent bits, and is absolutely certain that they’re making the world a more hostile place for her to live. And I don’t know that she’s wrong at all, and she of all people certainly doesn’t need life to be any harder.

    I honestly don’t know how to reconcile my feelings there. In my youth, I thought the answer was easy: I hate what you say, but I will defend to your death your right to say it. But of course, I see now how much easier it is for an educated, secure white guy to say that than it would be for my transgendered friend. I may hate what they say, but she might get killed because of it. Of course, any kind of freedom comes at the expense of some security. I tend to favor freedom, but that’s easy when it’s not my security that will realistically be threatened.

    So now I don’t know. I have a feeling we’re entering into an era where this question is going to be hugely important and divisive but never definitively settled. The only solution I can think of is the one I started with: I believe you should be completely free to say what you believe you have to say, but that doesn’t mean you’re free from responsibility to think carefully about what that is and what it brings into the world. Or that you’re free from criticism about it.

  25. “I believe you should be completely free to say what you believe you have to say, but that doesn’t mean you’re free from responsibility to think carefully about what that is and what it brings into the world. Or that you’re free from criticism about it.”

    That brings me a bit back to SOUTH PARK. Parker & Stone’s classic defense of their humor is: “You are either allowed to make fun of everything or nothing” and I actually agree with that, however I should add that for several topics you need seriously damn good and most of all clever jokes to justify that.

  26. I mean, they are allowed to make fun of everything. Jack-booted thugs are not going to kick in their door and stop them. The problem with the SOUTH PARK school of thought is that it often seems to be interpreted as “I’m allowed to say whatever I want, and if anyone tells me I shouldn’t, I am being oppressed and victimized.” It is, I think, at the root of the cancerous culture of victimization which has transformed a generation of young white men in my country into shockingly hateful sadists. Parker and Stone themselves, I think, have somewhat a somewhat more nuanced and self-critical take, but a significant portion of their fans missed that fact, and I think everyone on this site has observed the results at one point or another. Which, I guess, just brings us back where we started.

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