With the gore and combat that fictitious war films are generally comprised of, J.J. Abrams’ latest film, “Overlord,” disguises itself as yet another of these mindless action thrillers that populate the battlefield. However, “Overlord” is anything but a clone.
Make no mistake, “Overlord” isn’t a traditional action film: it’s horror. While I am not a fan of either genre, I was amazed by Abrams’ ability to blend the slow burn pacing of a traditional fright fest with over the top action that characterizes war films.
The plot is simple to understand. A squad of soldiers are tasked with taking down a Nazi radio tower after their plane was blown to smithereens during the Battle of Normandy; yet, the real challenge is defeating the monstrosities constructed by the mad doctor beneath the tower’s surface: Nazi zombies.
While this style of plot seems overdone, it is what makes such a unique and unambiguous entry into the film industry. Abrams’ ability to present the viewer an all-too-familiar scenario drops them into a comfortable setting, allowing the film’s terrors to creep up on the audience while they are unaware.
The gory aesthetic and putrid atmosphere of the film will make you question the popcorn you ate before it had even begun. The discomfort in the themes surrounding the movie will make you squirm in your chair. Once the film’s scares have been exposed, there’s no turning back. Soon you’ll forget that this was anything but a horror.
The result of experiments to make invincible super soldiers, the zombies were not what I expected when entering the theater – their faces were mutilated by bullets; their strength breaking will and bones alike; their speed prohibits escape. They are also non-traditional zombies, as they are able to comprehend thoughts and feelings. While the zombies made me jump out of my seat, they don’t become the subject to the audience’s extended attention until the film is almost over, leaving me wishing for more.
The characters of the film further contribute to the war film illusion that cloaks the scares; however, their cliché personalities caused me to care less about their fates. Characters that die are instantly forgotten as a result and their placement in the film proved fruitless.
The main character, Boyce (Jovan Adepo), serves as the docile soldier who overcomes his passivity and becomes a hero in the face of danger.
Ford (Wyatt Russell) is the traditional gritty soldier who only cares about accomplishing the mission. Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) was a bit of a surprise, playing the role of an empowering female resident of the local village; however, while she is presented with her own narrative, her presence seemingly pushes the male dominated plot.
While these overdone personalities are a tool used to further conceal the films scares, it would have been nice to see them become more dynamic with their own narratives and individual characterizing issues.
The villain is treated differently, however. Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) is a Nazi commander in charge of the radio tower that the cast of heroes is tasked to destroy. He proves to be much more than a cliché.
When initially introduced, he is captured and tortured. He is then revealed to be the true villain after injecting himself with the zombie serum, becoming stronger and more powerful than even he had imagined, proving to be the largest obstacle the protagonists must overcome.
While the film succeeded at tricking the viewer using its traditional war film plot and the pacing of a horror, the ending is encompassed with the predictability that plagues both genres – so much so that it felt like a lazy copy and paste that should have never existed in the first place, abandoning the character that make the film such a joy and fright to witness.
While I am not an avid action or horror viewer, I still left the theater thinking about when I would get the chance to bear witness to the scares that kept me on the edge of my seat again. I was genuinely surprised by how much I actually enjoyed “Overlord.”
Director J.J. Abrams creates a terrifying and gory masterpiece in “Overlord,” dragging the audience along a slow burn horror that disguises itself as a traditional war film. Truly, words cannot do justice in what the film successfully accomplishes – even if it’s ending brings the rollercoaster disguised hayrack ride to a disappointing conclusion.
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