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15 Nov 2018

Weird and Wild (With Nazi Zombies!): 'Overlord' Compellingly Melds a World War II Film With a Zombie Movie

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Wyatt Russell in Overlord. Wyatt Russell in Overlord.

American soldiers get up close and personal with mutant Nazi soldiers in Overlord, one of the weirder films to make it to the big screen in 2018.

J.J. Abrams and his Bad Robot company have come up with something peculiar here. While initial reports had this one as a Cloverfield movie, it is not: It’s a standalone film … a weird, freaky standalone.

World War II American paratrooper soldiers—led by Kurt Russell’s lookalike/soundalike son, Wyatt, as demolition expert Ford—land on the eve of D-Day in a Nazi-occupied French town, intent upon destroying a Nazi communication tower. Director Julius Avery’s flick starts off as an effective war movie as those paratroopers, including Jovan Adepo as Boyce and John Magaro as Tibbet, must escape a crashing plane and then evade Nazis on the ground.

Soon after meeting up with Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), the soldiers find themselves in a safehouse. It’s a typical small house … except Chloe’s aunt down the hall is ill, and we aren’t talking whooping cough. Wyatt remains focused on the tower mission, but Boyce inadvertently stumbles upon the root cause of the aunt’s sickness: Nazi doctors are screwing with dead people’s biochemistry in an effort to create a 1,000-year army. This results in some messed-up experiments like Chloe’s aunt, but also brings about superhuman, crazy Nazi soldier zombies—with direct orders to tear people apart.

The whole Nazi-zombie thing has been done before, but never with such authentic style and gory aplomb. Avery deserves credit for a nice slow burn as his movie goes from army-mission adventure to Sam Raimi-style crazed horror when Boyce discovers strange cocoons inside an old church.

The first legitimate appearance of a full-blown, raging dead Nazi is a good, super-scary time. There’s also an unfortunate incident with another guy that involves collar bones shooting out of his skin due to massive contortions; I must give high marks to the makeup-effects team on that one. Avery made a concerted effort to use practical special effects rather than CGI, so much of the film’s gore and gross stuff is made from scratch. This is a good thing, because when the film does use CGI, it doesn’t look great.

Pilou Asbæk is a memorable villain as a Nazi officer who winds up mutated without ever dying. He’s the ultimate Nazi/zombie/superhuman/dickweed, with a face that reminds a bit of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. He apparently went through five hours of makeup for these scenes, and that was time well spent: He totally sucks in a good way.

There’s talk of remaking Escape From New York. I hope they don’t do that, but if they do, they should quit screwing around with casting the likes of Gerard Butler as Snake Plissken, and just give Wyatt Russell the job. He’s the son of Kurt and Goldie, and he’s got his dad’s superior jawline and an identical speech cadence. His determined demolition expert here is a nice balance of hero and total asshole—a mix his pop also does well.

Adepo is the person with the most screen time, and his Boyce is a good, slightly unreliable and nervous central character. Ollivier has a nice moment with a flame thrower that reminded me of Ripley in Aliens. Magaro is so authentic as a New York native World War II soldier that you might wonder if he arrived on set via a time machine.

It’s interesting to see something like Overlord coming outpost-Halloween, when Oscar favorites and holiday films dominate the new releases. The movie doesn’t score major points for originality, but it’s nonetheless a good time for those of us who enjoy seeing bad things done to Nazis.

Overlord is now playing at theaters across the valley.

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