No, this is not a Cloverfield movie. And thank goodness, because if there’s anything The Cloverfield Paradox taught us whether the Super Bowl ploy worked on you or not, is that not every (relatively) low-budget sci-fi movie from Paramount needs to be – or even can be – shoehorned into this filmic anthology series of sorts. For the record, I don’t even think the first Cloverfield is that great; it’s a subpar monster movie with a found-footage gimmick that gets exhausting pretty quick. Having said that, its spiritual sequel, 10 Cloverfield Lane, is flat-out awesome. Even though the part of it that is is simply the story’s foundation before the Cloverfield angle just served as an answer, a footnote, if you will, to all the questions the movie was already asking. While the alien invasion reshoots that fit it in to the canon could be called arbitrary, they didn’t distract or undo all the good done before it. The same could not be said for The Cloverfield Paradox, however, as were it have remained simply God Particle, as the original screenplay dictated, it would have been at worst serviceable. But nope, this time the Cloverfield reshoots were so tacked on it was laughable, and suddenly made a whole lot more sense why Paramount decided to barf it out on Netflix instead of go up against Avengers: Infinity War and another movie of theirs, A Quiet Place, which, yep, also had some Cloverfield buzz at one time. But, rest assured, if there were ever any meetings held to discuss turning Overlord into Cloverfield 4, that idea never came to fruition. Which is not to say they absolutely couldn’t have, a mere reference in a line of dialogue all it really takes, but they were smart to keep the story as it is, which is in essence a modern B-movie that gives us perhaps the kind of nazi zombie movie we all deserved by now, even if the monsters in it aren’t entirely zombies, at least not traditionally. Still, while Overlord isn’t terribly ambitious and isn’t expecting you to remember it for a long time coming, it delivers exactly what it promises: undemanding, dumb fun. A quick, bloody popcorn movie if there ever was one.
Set on the eve of D-Day in 1944, Overlord opens with American paratrooper Pvt. Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) strapped down in an airplane, his squad ready to descend and destroy a German radio tower constructed atop a decrepit church. Unfortunately, their plane is shot down, and only a handful of soldiers, Boyce included, are able to reach the ground in one piece. He is soon reunited with the likes of demolitions expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell), sniper Tibbet (John Magaro), and photographer Morton Chase (Iain De Caestecker), who opt to press on with the mission regardless. In the woods they encounter French civilian Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who they coerce into leading them to the village that the radio tower overlooks. Bunkered down in Chloe’s attic with Nazi troops patrolling the grounds, the soldiers are quick to make a plan to infiltrate the church and destroy the tower. But something isn’t right. They soon learn that the church is the base of operations for a series of experiments, experiments that alter the biology of human corpses until they are something… other. Terror ensues.
If I had to classify it, I’d say Overlord is a war movie with some science-fiction / horror elements thrown in, rather than the other way around. Because even though it is balls-to-the-wall madness at some points, the intricacies of the war at large is not lost on the filmmakers. In fact, there is some time before we even get to the “zombie” stuff, as they don’t come into the picture until about midway through when said protagonists even begin investigating the church grounds. Until then, it’s simply a war film in which the soldiers are trying to keep a low profile while in the close proximity of their enemies. Having said that, this is a pretty good genre movie, whatever camp it lies in at whatever time. Whether it’s just a war movie, or an action-horror, or a sci-fi-horror, or whatever amalgamation you choose. Simply put, Overlord likes to lean in to its genre conventions with aplomb. Like your war movies to feature the typical archetypes cracking wise at one another before they willingly run into certain death? Overlord‘s got it. Like your action-horror to come equipped with hulking, raged-out zombie-like creatures? Overlord‘s got that too. Obviously if your taste in movies doesn’t sway to the more gorily inclined, I wouldn’t recommend it for you. But if you can get down for a zany, bloody B-movie send up of both Nazis and zombies, rest assured that Overlord comes as advertised. Is it the best Nazi zombie movie? Maybe, yeah, though I wouldn’t want people to forget about Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead before making that call, which is a little less serious but also has cheeky fun with itself. Still, seeing as it’s actually set during WWII, it’ll definitely satisfy those with fond memories of playing video games like Wolfenstein or Call of Duty: World at War.
For those of you though that don’t care about genre and just want to get your fix because you’re an adrenaline junkie – understandable, as well – you’ve come to the right place. Overlord is directed by Julius Avery, whose first film, Son of a Gun, I happened to miss. That’s not exactly germane to your understanding of this one though – at least, I don’t think – as this has J. J. Abrams’ stamp all over it, it being a Bad Robot production and all. And if you know J. J. Abrams at all, you know he can do action, having started his theatrical career with Mission: Impossible III and having most recently done Star Wars: The Force Awakens. So in a sense, Avery by way of Abrams definitely delivers on the action front. And good thing it gets bloody, at that, because this level of insanity minus realistic bloodshed would be like a PG-13 Deadpool, which coincidentally is happening, sort of. I digress, however. Rest assured, the proverbial shit hits the fan with plenty of red splatter, in the second act especially.
And speaking of acts, there is one fault about Overlord that I want to talk to you about, namely its pacing. In short, there are a lot of lulls in between action, as the protagonists do spend a significant amount of time holed up in that attic throughout the film. Granted, the scenes themselves are either full of tension or humor or what have you, but this is the one instance that I wouldn’t have minded had they stuck to the action sequences primarily, their bread and butter. Specifically, had it been Shoot ‘Em Up, which was essentially non-stop action, I would’ve been down with that. Had it also been as short as Shoot ‘Em Up, 86 minutes, that would have been fine too. Actually, I’d say something like 95, but even that is significantly less than the 110 Overlord currently sits at. Usually I don’t mind when movies run long if it means cinching any overriding themes it may have, but there’s not really anything going on under the surface of Overlord. Which is fine. It’s not that kind of movie. So I wouldn’t have minded if they spruced it up a little bit and trimmed the hedges in order to make it a complete, get-in, get-out job.
Regardless, Overlord makes good on its one promise, in that it is complete, unabashed fun. It’s got quick-cut action and gore in spades and plenty of fine performances from its lead cast, particularly Wyatt Russell, who is definitely showing signs of being son of 80s action hero Kurt Russell, best known for things like Escape from New York and The Thing. It probably won’t get remembered a whole bunch when thought of as being part of all the genres it inhabits, but if it does, I’m sure it’ll bring a gleeful smile onto the face of whoever conjured it into their mind. And if they do make Cloverfield 4, let’s hope they have it start that way.
Final Score: 7/10