Just a few months ago saw the release of Trench 11, a Canadian horror film that featured Allied soldiers near the end of the First World War investigating nefarious, zombie-esque goings-on in an underground German bunker. Well, here’s the sequel of sorts, one World War later, with a few million more in the production budget.
The opening minutes are a real sturm und drang affair (if that’s not being insensitive), with a U.S. airborne unit flying over the English Channel and parachuting down in advance of the D-Day landings in occupied France. As first scenes go, it’s the Saving Private Ryan of zombie movies.
Among the squad are Everyman Boyce (Jovan Adepo), explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell) and Brooklyn wiseacre Tibbett (John Magaro), plus a few more besides. Separated from the rest of their unit – most of whom don’t make it – they come upon Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who lives in the nearby town with her little brother; neither fancies the Nazis.
Director Julius Avery, working from a screenplay by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) – and, it’s worth noting, under the auspices of sci-fi producer extraordinaire J.J. Abrams – crafts an entertaining men-on-a-mission story, complete with a Mengele-wannabe doctor (Erich Redman) and a nasty Nazi commander (Denmark’s Pilou Asbaek) who at one point gets to snarl: “The thousand-year Reich needs thousand-year soldiers!”
Mind you, the supernatural elements are somewhat downplayed, especially in the early going. The soldiers’ original mission is to destroy a radio tower that could help the Nazis when the real fighting starts; only gradually do they become aware that the church that houses that equipment also has something unholy happening in its lower levels. After a recent screening of Overlord at Toronto’s After Dark Film Festival, cinema-goers could be heard complaining that it could have been more “zombie-ie.”
The upside of this is that we have time enough to get to know the individual soldiers as more than mere caricatures, and thus to care about them too. Particularly fun is the repartee between the sharp-tongued Tibbett and Paul (Gianny Taufer), Chloe’s little brother, who has a habit of wandering into the room at precisely the right jump-scare moment.
And between the prosthetics and makeup and what must have been a massive budget for explosions, Overlord offers many gruesome pleasures. And about time, I say. Zombies have been cinematic fodder since Victor Halperin’s White Zombie in 1932. Nazis as movie villains came soon after, with Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in 1940.
This isn’t the first time they’ve been brought together – see 2009’s Dead Snow, 2011’s War of the Dead, and something from 2012 called Angry Nazi Zombies. As the latest, Overlord announces, humbly but clearly, that it has nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. And brains.
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