NOV 20, 2018: Overlord
You ain’t never seen a World War II movie like this.
“Overlord” is a unique cinematic animal, yet somehow cobbled together from bits and pieces of other cinematic troupes. The movie starts off as a gritty, hyper-realistic war drama, and eventually becomes an over-the-top fantasy horror film by its third act. What was amazing for me is there wasn’t any jarring effect here, or sudden “twist” that caused the film to change direction. The whole movie works as a natural progression to that point and flows naturally, which was remarkable to me since the two genres shouldn’t mesh at all.
Trying to describe the movie itself without ruining the story for future audiences is a very difficult task. The best way to do so is thru allegory. Katie Walsh, a professional film critic with the Tribune News Service, noted “If anyone ever wished ‘Saving Private Ryan’ were more of a B-movie splatterfest, this movie is for you”. I think she summed up my interest in this film quite well. I appreciate Saving Private Ryan for what it was – an ultra-violent, raw World War II tale— though it’s not my kind of film. ‘Overlord’ has the same tone and setting but ultimately delivers something more akin to “Evil Dead 2”, which IS my kinda movie. Another critic compared Overlord to “Inglorious Bastards meets Saving Private Ryan meets Resident Evil”, which likewise I think gives audiences a good idea what kind of movie they’re in for.
Other films have tried to pull off this type of story, but I’ve never seen it done well. When I fell in love with the film Let Me In, I noted that it was the kind of film that Twilight WISHED it could be – Let Me In wanted to do a tragic romance angle between a vampire and a human, and completed nailed it. In this case, think back to the ill-fated movie adaptation of DOOM from about a decade ago. It knew what it wanted to be, it just failed miserably at doing that. Overlord, on the other hand, pulls it off beautifully. In fact, with perhaps a few minor tweaks to the script, Overlord could have been a movie adaptation of Wolfenstein 3D (the brutal fighting against NAZIs make it in the ideal setting), and we might have gotten a rare example a good video game adaptation. One final good comparison along the allegory route is the kind of movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wanted to be. We all know what they were aiming for: make the historical 1860s civil war setting very realistic and believable, but at the same time, find a way to center the plot around traditional vampires, and make the two mesh well together. Again, Abraham Lincoln failed miserably at this (even though I liked the movie overall). Overlord, on the other, excels at it.
But enough with the allegorical comparisons, let’s get back to the movie itself. It was delightful for me precisely because I hadn’t read anything about the movie before I saw it on the big screen. For most of the movie, I was convinced this was indeed, a straightforward historically accurate World War II drama, albeit with fictional characters. Having recently watched “Darkest Hour”, I got a similar vibe from Overlord. Overlord is first and foremost a war drama, with the fantasy horror stuff woven in as icing on the cake. Much of the film’s production is spot on, from the casting, acting, set designs, costumes, etc., to recreate World War II in excellent detail. In fact, you could capture several stills from the movie, put them black & white, and it probably match actual World War II images quite well. And while Overlord is quite dark and extremely graphic, it’s not the kind of film that will suck all the joy out of you, as the characters are fun and the story is compelling and holds your interest. Surprisingly, this film is from much the same team working on the Star Trek reboots: Bad Robot is the production company, J.J. Abrams is the producer, and the screenwriter is Mark L. Smith of ‘The Reverence’ fame – the same guy recently hired to pen Quentin Tarantino’s pitch for Star Trek. If this is the kind of material they’ll give us, someone in Hollywood needs to scrap the proposed Chris Hemsworth Star Trek movie and move right into the Tarantino project.
I did have a few minor nitpicks with the movie. There was only one major historic inaccuracy, and that is the film has a major element of white soldiers and black soldiers serving side-by-side and working together, when in reality the U.S. military was still segregated at that time and wouldn’t be desegregated until Korea. Overlord also has many things I dislike about war movies – chaos, endless shouting, and firefights, which make it especially hard to follow at certain points in the film, and often during the climax. Still, this was most likely done to reinforce that war is hell, and it fit the movie.
I’d recommend Overlord even if war movies and gross body horror isn’t your thing. It stands out as a cool experiment in Hollywood history that does something cool with these tired genres. You ain’t never seen a World War II movie like this.
*** out of ****