Overlord, with its high-concept hook of Nazi zombies, itself practically a subgenre at this point, is the kind of movie that could have gone either way. It’s easy to see how it could have been all concept and no execution, the kind of movie with little to offer besides a catchy gimmick at its center. Thankfully it turns out to be anything but, taking its gonzo premise and running with it to create a perfectly satisfying slice of B-Movie cheese.
The year is 1944. It’s the night before D-Day, and a paratrooper unit is en route to Nazi-occupied France disable one of the Germans’ key radio towers. In one of the movie’s most pulse-pounding sequences, the unit’s plane is shot down, and the few survivors soldier on to complete their mission. But when the squad arrives at the tower, they find that it’s also the site of some abominable immortality-seeking Nazi experiments.
You can probably guess fairly accurately what happens from there, but Overlord executes its recognizable beats so well that it doesn’t matter. In fact, fans of this kind of movie (myself included) will find plenty of comfort in the plot’s familiar turns. This movie knows what it is, what it’s doing, and who its audience is. Uninterested in reinventing the wheel, it’s content to make one that’s rock-solid. This craftsmanship is most evident in the movie’s sturdily efficient pacing, which finds an easy balance between scenes of high-octane action-horror and talkier moments. We all know what’s coming, but Overlord is admirable in the way it saves the zombies’ inevitable arrival until well into the movie, allowing the anticipation to build to its boiling point.
The likable if archetypal cast of characters helps as well, each of them fleshed out enough for us to care about them, but never so much that they get in the way of the main attraction. As the ragtag unit’s de-facto leader, Wyatt Russell excels in the kind of tough-guy role his father used to dominate, silently conveying a dark past through his thousand-yard stare. But our true protagonist is Boyce (Jovan Adepo) a green-as-grass private fresh out of boot camp and unprepared for the horrors of war. Thanks to Adepo’s earnest, unassuming performance, Boyce never becomes insufferably self-righteous the way similar characters often do. The group is rounded out by feisty local Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier, doing her best Melanie Laurent circa Inglorious Basterds) and her precocious younger brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). The requisite Nazi heavy is SS bigwig Wafner, whose stock mustache-twirling villain is given some appreciably hammy presence by Pilou Asbæk.
But the real star of the movie is the twisted effects work, which – excepting the occasional bit of weak CGI – is grotesquely, horrifically convincing, and should satisfy all but the most demanding of gorehounds. The visuals borrow heavily from body-horror classics like Re-Animator and The Thing, but generally manage to stay on the side of homage rather than rip-off. Like those movies, Overlord saves its most freakish creations for its final act, a splatterific showdown in the secret Nazi base.
Overlord’s only glaring misstep is its rather feeble coda, which wraps things up in blandest way possible, and utterly lacks the kind of punch one would hope for given the chaos that precedes it. But it’s a minor flaw in a well-made and undeniably fun B-Movie, which these days has sadly become a rarity.