Thursday, 8 November 2018
Horrors Of War
2018 USA Directed by Julius Avery
UK cinema release print.
Cry havoc... and let slip the dogs of war. Or, in this case, let slip the reanimated corpses of French villagers given a substance which turns them into crazed, mixed up super soldiers.
When I first saw the trailer to Overlord, a month or two ago, I found it interesting that J. J. Abrams was producing what looked to be a new entry into the ‘zombie nazi’ subgenre but I figured, at the very least, that meant there would be some money thrown at it so it might be worth taking a look. It could go either way in terms of quality and the trailer wasn’t really giving a good flavour of what the final product might be. So I went and saw this the opening night of its UK release and... by golly I’m glad I did.
Overlord is one heck of a well made horror movie, directed by Julius Avery and, well, it’s just extremely competently made and is entertaining as you could hope for. As far as it being a zombie Nazi movie... well technically it’s not. Most of the reanimated people in this are not actually German soldiers and the one Nazi officer who does benefit greatly from the effects of the super serum that the typically stereotypical ‘bespectacled German war scientist’ in the movie is developing isn’t... well, he isn’t dead. There are a few reanimated corpses of note though so, while not absolutely a ‘zombie Nazi’ film in its absolute correct definition, the juxtaposition of those two elements certainly throws it into roughly the same kind of area, if genre categorisations are your thing.
The film tells the story of a unit of soldiers flying into France to blow up a communications jamming unit on top of a Nazi controlled church (more like a fortress, truth be told). However, after they are shot down, the few survivors of the incident manage to find each other and regroup to carry on the mission. The main protagonist is Boyce, played absolutely wonderfully and with a fine mix of both confidence, righteousness and vulnerability by Jovan Adepo. Now, the only big problem I had in terms with suspending disbelief in a film about reanimated corpses taking a super serum is that, heck, you would not get that racial mix happening in the US army in the 1940s. The soldiers would have been segregated into different units but... if you can get past that, Adepo really owns the character and gives the audience someone to believe in and care about.
Another member of the troop is Ford, the tough and slightly enigmatic member of the unit. He also brings a nice quality to the film and all the way through I kept thinking how much this character would have been well played by Clint Eastwood back in the 1960s or 1970s. Now I knew it wasn’t Eastwood’s son playing this role (for my thoughts on him, read my review of Pacific Rim - Uprising here) but, once I’d stayed behind for the end credits and found out the actor’s name was Wyatt Russell, it all made sense. Closer investigation showed his full name to be Wyatt Hawn Russell and he is, in fact, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn... so looking back I must have been picking up on a vaguely Snake Plissken vibe to the character. He does really well in this movie too.
Now, it has to be said, the film is pretty intense and brutal in places, even before the surviving troops befriend one of the local French women, Chloe (again, played quite brilliantly by Mathilde Ollivier) and get embroiled with a triple mission of blowing up the tower, stopping the mad experiments which are taking place in the basement of the fortress and rescuing Chloe’s younger brother. One of the reasons it is so intense and, for once, had me on the edge of my seat, is because the whole ‘war is hell’ angle is played up so well that it more than holds its own against the horror element. Scratch that, I would go as far as to say the way in which the conflict between the Nazis, the American soldiers and the occupied French villagers is handled is absolutely what gives this film its edge over a lot of others where they might not necessarily take up the amount of time to pitch the setting right. In fact, apart from a gooey mess of a body found in the early stages of the film, the horror B-movie (with an A-movie budget) doesn’t even start to emerge until about a third to a half of the way through the story. When it does it’s equally fraught, as Boyce finds himself on his own midst the enemy in the compound for a while... something the director really ramps up by using a lot of hand held camera during these passages. Heck, even Boyce’s parachute jump at the start of the movie is an absolutely drawn out, nerve stretching suspenseful sequence and it just keeps getting more intense from there.
The other thing about this is that the film doesn’t skimp on is showing the brutality of war and what both sides are willing to do in the conflict. There’s one sequence in the middle of the movie, when the German officer who is built up as the main villain of the piece is being ‘interrogated’ by the Americans, where Ford is seen to be almost as brutal as the Nazis in his methods of acquiring the information he needs to know. To be fair, you’re definitely rooting for Ford again by the end of the film but this movie really takes no prisoners when it comes to being fair about what people are capable of doing for their respective side of the conflict. For example...
The film is full of clichés such as the soldier who is perceived as nasty but then turns out to redeem himself and have a heart of gold by stopping a bullet for the child he pretends to hate. The soldier in question is played by John Magaro and, like any of these actors, you could see them holding their own in some of the great war movies such as Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Ditto for the cliché of the war photographer who’s not really a soldier but ends up going through hell (played here by Iain De Caestecker from Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD). The thing is, though, because the film is so dark and raw when it needs to be and doesn’t really flinch in the ‘horrors of war’ department, I really didn’t mind the clichés inherent in some of the character types. Indeed it’s kind of comforting that they’re there in a way and, of course, it makes for really useful shorthand in telling the story quickly. And with Jed Kurzel’s wonderful score backing up the visual intensity... sadly unavailable as a commercial stand alone release when I tried to buy a copy of the soundtrack, CD or otherwise... you really do feel it when the action gets going and things get a little insane.
One other thing about this movie I should probably warn you about, if you’re not a die hard horror fan... there’s a lot of blood and viscera in the film. You will see a person, for example, shot in the head and then, with his face half hanging off, dose up on the serum before beating everybody else up. This is war and when the bullets start flying, sometimes when you least expect them to, then the director doesn’t look away when it comes to throwing in the guts and gore. Not necessarily an element which I particularly look for in a film but, if the story atmosphere calls for it then I don’t think you should skimp on it and this seems to be the view shared by the film makers on this one, to be sure.
So that’s my take on Overlord, a movie which I wasn’t too hopeful about but which I’m really glad I saw. This is quality B-movie exploitation shocks done just right and with, for once, a big enough budget to be able to pull it all off credibly. If you are into horror movies, or war movies or, as like this, a thrilling combination of the two, then you should definitely put Overlord near the top of your list because it’s all put together extremely well. Oh... and if you have already seen this and you were in the 8.20pm screening at Enfield Cineworld in Row E on the opening Wednesday... get a life. You don’t need to be texting on your phone all the way through the film. Turn the damned thing off and watch the bloody movie.