It’s Halloween, which means I’ve gone way outside my comfort zone for the last time this month and watched another horror movie. Despite being an absolute wimp when it comes to the horror genre, I’ve managed to get through a few recently – and I have genuinely been impressed with (enjoyed is perhaps the wrong word, especially with Mandy and Color Out of Space, each containing intense and often disturbing scenes – plus Nicolas Cage) each of them.
So for Halloween itself, my choice was Overlord, the JJ Abrams-produced 2018 film that was once rumoured to be another entry in the variable Cloverfield series (the latest of which, The Cloverfield Paradox, was unceremoniously dumped onto Netflix as an exclusive – and was absolutely awful).
Set in World War 2 on the eve of D-Day, we’re thrust immediately into a desperate situation with a group of American soldiers on a time-critical mission to destroy a radio transmitter on top of a heavily guarded church in Nazi-occupied France. When things very quickly go disastrously wrong, it’s up to the surviving soldiers to carry out their mission no matter the cost. Yet they soon discover that the church is home to much more than just a radio transmitter – being the site of a Nazi lab in which some very unholy experiments are being carried out…
Right from the opening, Overlord does a fantastic job of ratcheting up tension and features some brilliantly shot sequences. An early, single shot freefall from a plane is technically and visually impressive, with another single shot escape from a building later in the film also proving to be a pretty breathtaking sequence.
The first section of the film – as we build up to the relentless crescendo of the final act – is a masterclass in tension, punctuated with moments of violence and more down to earth scares. The Nazis – including Pilou Asbaek’s nasty, grinning antagonist, Wafner – are a frighteningly real threat, even before things take a more fantastical turn later in the proceedings. The final act takes us into territory that’ll be very familiar to players of games such as Wolfenstein and Zombie Army, though it does have its own spin on the grisly occult things that terrorise our characters.
There’s an excellent atmosphere, helped by an off-kilter colour palette that recalled – in my mind at least – classic Hammer horror movies, with lots of sickly hues used to brilliant effect. Despite its pulpy nature, Overlord is a very well shot film with some great attention to detail from director Julius Avery.
Another technical aspect that really stood out to me was the excellent sound design, which had a classic feel of old school horror – right down to how footsteps sounded heightened and somewhat artificial. It was a superb touch that may well go unnoticed by many viewers. One thing viewers won’t fail to notice is the consistently brilliant practical and – presumably, at times, CGI-enhanced – effects work, which is as impressive as it is often disgustingly gory. It’s an astonishing achievement and the fact that so much of it is handled practically is definitely something to be applauded.
I was also impressed with how well written the film was; not all of our heroes are completely sympathetic characters – there’s more grey in our motley crew than you may expect.
Overall, I had an absolute blast watching Overlord. Its first half creates a grim, foreboding, almost unbearably tense atmosphere before unleashing almost literal hell in its gory, insane climax. Avery’s film recalls a similarly masterful, artful treatment of grindhouse-style material that you’d normally see from directors such as Guillermo del Toro or John Carpenter – it’s an approach that elevates the material far beyond its B-movie origins and will surely see Overlord regarded as much more than just a cult classic as time goes by.
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