Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 16, 2018

Over the top ‘Overlord’ is monster-loving fun

“Overlord” wastes no time getting right to the action. As the lights dimmed and the movie lit up the screen, I could imagine the cast gathering for the first day of filming and the director standing behind the camera saying, “It’s the night before D-Day. You’re a company of American paratroopers tasked with penetrating the walls of a fortified church and destroying a radio transmitter. Go!”

The horrors, however, unfold slowly at first. There’s a sickly moan from behind a half-closed door, a brief glimpse of a horribly misshapen something or another through a peephole, and a woman’s voice pleading in French from under a blanket in the basement of the church.

Once the blanket is thrown back, “Overlord” becomes a no-holds-barred thrill ride through a nightmare world.

One of the things I admire most about the film is its gleefully unapologetic attitude about its concept. When I told my wife what the film was about, she rolled her eyes and said, “That sounds stupid. Review ‘The Grinch’ instead.”

But the makers of “Overlord” didn’t care what their wives thought. They wanted to make a movie about Nazi scientists creating zombie soldiers in the bowels of a French church and, by God, they did it.

Since the thought of watching a cinematic reboot of the classic Grinch cartoon frightened me more than the notion of seeing what was festering on the other side of that peephole (a scene glimpsed in the film’s trailer), I chose to review “Overlord.” As I sat alone in the theater, munching on popcorn and slurping down a soda, I patted myself on the back for choosing well.

One of the best things about “Overlord” is its lack of pretense; it never pretends to be something it isn’t. It’s not a suspense thriller, so the movie never slows down to build tension. It’s not about a hero’s quest to return home, either, so there are no scenes of loved ones waiting stateside. And there’s no thematic subtext because that would have weighed the film down.

Instead, “Overlord” is simply a gruesome mashup of action, adventure and monster movie, a product of familiar ingredients fed through a madman’s meat grinder.

Having embraced a specific concept, the filmmakers ran with it, packing “Overlord” with entertaining set pieces. I don’t want to spoil any of the fun, so I’ll just say I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a film during which I prayed for a character’s death, and then a minute later, was praying he’d die again.

Layered on top of this jubilant B movie nonsense are top-notch production values. The filmmakers clearly spent a lot of money on grisly monster prosthetics, and the CGI looks like it cost a pretty penny, too.

What drew me into “Overlord” more than anything else, though, was the production design, which could have served as the backdrop for a realistic war drama.

From the opening scene of a decimated transport plane clinging to life as it carries the paratroopers to the drop point, to the equipment in the Nazi’s communications center, to the clothes the soldiers and French villagers wear, the faithfulness and level of detail are impressive.

The film’s carefully shaped sense of realism makes the terrors that rise out of its world as jarring as the shadows that frighten a child after a bad dream.

If I’ve given you the impression that “Overlord” is only about the thrills, I’ve done the movie a disservice. For a monster movie to work, it needs to be populated with interesting characters, or at least people for whom the audience cares, and that’s certainly the case with “Overlord.”

The story is anchored to five soldiers, with the most attention given to Boyce, an African-American private who serves as the film’s heart. When a young boy is placed in distress, Boyce is the one who says, “We can finish our mission, but we can save the boy, too.”

“Overlord” has other likeable characters, as well as a memorable villain, and stirs up both sympathy and loathing, depending on the character’s place along the moral continuum.

I don’t have any significant complaints about “Overlord.” It is what it is, and it does what it does well. Even the dialogue, which can be a weak point in movies like this, was fashioned with care.

Maybe Julius Avery’s direction could have been more stylistic (imagine if “Overlord” had been helmed by “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi), and perhaps the basement could have contained a few more heart-stopping horrors like the woman under the blanket, but other than that, there’s nothing for me to rag on.

Many gripping tales have come out of World War II, but I never expected to hear the story of the terrible things that entered this world in the basement of a Nazi-occupied church in France.

I imagine someone told the writers, “That sounds stupid. Write a Kevin Smith comedy instead.” I’m glad they didn’t.