As decades have marched on since the end of World War II, Nazis have become the most mouldable of villains. Like zombies, vampires, and demons, Nazis are such a shortcut for evil that they can be spliced or morphed into anything required. A sub-set of this is the mad scientist Nazi. Whether it be supernatural forces, occult curses, or viscous medical experimentation, if a Nazi is involved the gamebook is open for whatever you want. Overlord takes those well worn Third Reich nasties and goes down the schlocky body horror path.
As preparation for the D-Day counter-invasion of Europe, a paratrooper unit is tasked with parachuting into occupied France and knocking out a German radio tower that is blocking Allied transmissions. We barely have a chance to get acquainted with the characters before a visually thrilling explosion sees their aircraft hit and the soldiers plummeting from the sky, desperately grabbing at their release cords. Many thumps, bumps, and bangs later, what is left of the unit sneaks wearily to the tower, located within a small French village.
Our remaining G.I Joes are a good mixture comprising of the quiet and morally centered, Boyce (Jovan Adepo), strong and silent explosives expert newcomer, Ford (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell), cynical and wisecracking sniper, Tibbet (Magaro), and wide-eyed wet behind the ears Chase (Iain De Caestecker). They take refuge in the home of Chloe, a young woman (Mathilde Ollivier) protecting her little brother generally from the incumbent Nazi force and, specifically, from the vicious Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbæk from Borgen and Lucy) who coerces Chloe into sex in return for ‘protection’ for her family. Oh, and upstairs is Chloe’s oddly sick aunt…
As I said earlier, we know that Nazis often = experimentation and Overlord lays down tendrils of hints to lead you into realising this won’t be a standard mission. The noises barking from Chloe’s aunt’s room are barely human and any glimpse snatched of her is worryingly deformed. Under the church there are dimly lit and horrific tests taking place and talk of making the oft-used Nazi term of ‘1,000 year Reich’ a practical reality. The B-Movie pulse beats harder past the halfway point leading to a variety of squishy and gory set pieces that will please any genre fan.
Yet conversely, once the writhing nastiness is in play, Overlord struggles to fill its run time. The original story was thought up by J.J. Abrams along with writer Billy Ray, who in turn wrote the screenplay. You can almost place yourself in the meetings and visualise a flip chart where the initial idea was sketched out (Nazis! Experiments! Ick!) and the next page contained the plot set pieces (Plane crash! Monstrous things! Explosions!) but the dotted lines between the two had ???? marks and ‘TBA’. The linking scenes are often perfunctory and have little in the way of smaller character moments to prevent the mid-section from dragging.
Although flitting back from the labs to the village can make the latter seem like it is stuck in a time freeze waiting for the action to return, Overlord packs the ‘good bits’ with plenty of gristle to chew over whilst ensuring our group of grunts fill the screen with gusto. Adepo is compelling as the ‘good guy trying to do right’ archetype and carries the movie well. Russell conjures memories of his famous father for a quiet but powerful aura that puts the mission above all else. And despite what I said about the village scenes being guilty of thumb twirling, there is a sweet subplot where Magaro’s fast-talking cynic bonds with Chloe’s little brother, much to his surprise.
When it comes to Nazis you need a good hate figure to boo and hiss at which is kindly provided by Asbæk essentially reprising his wide-grinned cackling presence as Euron Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones. His character and performance are not exactly nuanced (his brainstorm personality would be the world ‘bwahahaha’ underlined three times) but thanks to a series of eminently punchable facial expressions he gives good bad guy for your buck.
There is a lot of fun to be had in Overlord which is better looking and better cast than a simple ‘Nazi squishy monster’ synopsis would suggest. Dimly lit basement corridors contain bodies that can’t agree if they are dead or not whilst nasty looking goop permeates sallow skin. And when the monstrous regiment threatens to goosestep over our heroes the creature effects are satisfyingly crunchy in combat. There are jumps, errghs, kerblams, and a cast to root for which combine to make Overlord successful in enlisting you into a good fun Nazi Punch of a movie. Just be careful not to get your knuckles stuck inside the sickness.
Words by Mike Record