By Joel Liss
When Overlord (2018) was first announced by JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company, many theorized that, like The Cellar (1989) and God Particle before, it would eventually be revealed to be an installment in the company’s flagship Cloverfield franchise. This wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. Since Matt Reeve’s surprise blockbuster in 2008, every genre film produced by Bad Robot – with the exception of Abrams’ own Super 8 – has been an installment in a pre-existing franchise: Cloverfield, Mission Impossible, and Stars of both the Trek and Wars variety. Rumor has it that at one point director Julius Avery’s war/horror mashup film may in fact have been slated as the fourth installment in the anthology franchise. But that was before the series begot a film so bad – Cloverfield Paradox (2018) – that Paramount took one look at it and decided the best business move would be breaking even by selling worldwide rights to Netflix. Maybe Overlord would have made more at the box office had it been released as SS Cloverfield, but the truth is that this movie wouldn’t have really fit in with the franchise; Overlord is more B movie horror than A movie sci-fi.
And that’s okay, great even. Opening inside an airplane under fire, followed by a single take of our hero Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), falling from the sky, the film quickly establishes the intensity of its genre thrills. After falling into France, Boyce discovers the few other survivors from his plane, a colorful cast of characters including Wyatt Russell, channeling the onscreen Charisma of father Kurt, if not the acting talent. Together they head into occupied-France, on a mission to take out a radio tower, discovering something far more deadly in the bowels of an occupied church. Specifically, zombies. You’ve seen the trailer. This is where the film really comes into its own, indulging in some legitimately-chilling body horror crossed with some high-octane gun play. It’s fun, watching these American soldiers battle these Nazis and zombies and one particularly foreboding Nazi Zombie, whose special effects makeup deserves special praise.
The introduction of the zombies – they’re never called zombies, but come on – also foregrounds a specifically-queasy moral qualm I felt about this movie from the first time I saw the trailer. Namely, who were these creatures before they became remorseless creatures. A scene midway through the movie shows that the serum which brings life to the dead also turns them into remorseless killers, so it’s not unfair to assume that the abomination chasing one of our protagonists was once an innocent citizen of France. This is the dilemma every zombie movie asks you to ignore; perhaps the man who attacks Barbara at the opening of Night of the Living Dead (1968) was once a pediatrician, or maybe he was a cat murderer. We’re not supposed to know, and it doesn’t matter. It’s a little more difficult in the context of this film, however, when we consider just who is being experimented on by the Nazi scientists. When we consider the minorities and other enemies of the Nazi agenda being systematically captured and slaughtered before being sent to the labs, only to be gunned down by our heroes, it becomes a little more difficult to cheer them on. My suggestion? Eat your popcorn and don’t think too hard.