Huddled against my father’s back with an excitement in my stomach and a terror in my eyes, playing vicariously through him as he crept down dimly lit corridors with deathly moans escaping between bars and raising both of our heartbeats to uncontrollable levels. The fear and adrenaline coursing through us, caused by one of the most original and terrifying horror games; Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It was after those days that I was more than aware playing horror games was something my my measly mind could not handle, and therefore my passion for horror would have to be contained to films only. Julius Avery has taken that fear and thrill of searching, hunting and destroying nazi zombies and transformed it into the genre blending war and horror film Overlord.
A group of American troops are dropped into a small village in France which is currently controlled and overrun with German Nazi soldiers. Their mission is to infiltrate a church base and destroy a radio transmitter. When the sparse group of troops begin their seemingly straight-forward mission, they realise that they might be out of their depth when it comes to numbers and the aggression of the German soldiers. But once they overpower the captain and take him hostage, they believe they’ve found an easy way in. That is until one troop discovers there’s a sinister secret lying behind the walls of the church and it’s far worse than any Nazi…
Avery presents the audience with one of the most traumatic experiences within the first five minutes of the film, one that was more horrifying than any horror film could try to be. The war genre is although a stand alone one, it could very easily be put into a sub-genre category of horror, because it really is one of the most frightening things a human can got through. As the troops prepare to parachute down into their target, their aircraft is bombarded with bullets and missiles that tear apart their aircraft and men with explosive terror. With the deafening roar of explosions, the quivering rumble of the plane’s failing jets and the harrowing screams of the men engulfed in flames with bullet holes ripped through their limbs, the audience are given a glimpse into the reality of preparing to fall head first into unknown territory, and how the possibility of being brutally murdered by Nazi’s on ground seems more appealing than being burned alive in the air. This opening sequence for Overlord truly makes an impression and opens up the audience for the action-packed and frightening experience that is yet to come.
Although not officially mentioned online as a film adaptation of the Return to Castle Wolfenstein game, it seems quite obvious that the game was a heavy influence on the storyline. As a fan of the game, Overlord seems to give everything that could possibly be wanted from a film version; it has believable solider characters with Wyatt Russell playing the corporal in charge who takes no shit and is more than happy to give a beating when necessary to the opposition, John Magaro as the shit-talking soldier who becomes the sweet one, Iain De Caestecker who is the “photographer” and not much of a soldier and finally Jovan Adepo as our lovable protagonist who couldn’t harm a fly let alone shoot another man. These four characters all offer something to the audience and come across as the exact icons you expect to see in a video-game to help shape the narrative and give excuses for the ways certain aspects play out. The four are also joined by a damsel in distress played by Mathilde Ollivier who eventually shows the men of the group that she has bigger balls than most of them. We also have our classic bad guy, played by Pilou Asbæk (who is a spitting image of Michael Shannon) who encompasses everything you would expect from a power-hungry Nazi officer who loves to rape women, slaughter men and use the zombie formula to become even more powerful. Even though the characters aren’t essentially anything original and fall into the tropes usually seen in films of this manner, it doesn’t matter, because it’s exactly what fits the bill for this genre-blending film.
What really intrigues the most is how Overlord feels as though it was designed purely for entertainment with frightening moments including monstrous zombies, and thrilling explosions but goes a little deeper and spins a different take on the atrocities committed by Nazi’s during WWII. Instead of the concentration camps, the audience are given innocent people murdered in cold blood, and forced into another lease of life, one that has not been asked for and is full of pain and despair. The tables are turned on these despicable people with our protagonist who is a black man, takes the matter into his own hands and exacts revenge in a brutal way on those that truly deserve death to happen to them. At first glance it seems that Overlord doesn’t have too much depth, but when you look a little deeper, there’s definitely a story worth telling here.
Overlord has everything that anyone could want from a zombie nazi film. An exhilarating yet traumatic experience that will excite your every emotion with fear, fury and fire.
Verdict: 5 out of 5