I have broad tastes in movies. In fact, I’ll watch almost anything when I’m in the mood to go to the cineplex, though I’m not a big fan of rom-coms, teen slasher films or torture porn. (And, yes, I just put rom-coms in the same intolerable category as torture porn.) But every so often I’ll check out a film for the heck of it and discover the work rises above its humble expectations to become truly entertaining.
Bad Times at the El Royale, which I saw a couple of weeks ago, was such a film. This week’s overachiever was Overlord, a Nazi/super-zombie horror flick directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun). I went in thinking I’d have some fun and enjoy my popcorn; I came out being more impressed than I expected with this war story-cum-mad scientist tale. Of course, it was gory and highly unlikely, with a plot reminiscent of those Weird comic books we read as kids, but the characters were interesting enough that you cared about them. And, given a giant suspension of disbelief, the peril they faced seemed authentic.
|Overlord: Because Nazis (and Nazi zombies) make the best villains.|
The film's premise is that a platoon of U.S. GIs parachutes into Nazi-occupied France just before D-Day with the objective of taking out a radio tower atop an old castle. The first half of the film is standard war-film set-up stuff, introducing the nervous new recruits (including primary hero Jovan Adepo as Boyce), the tough-as-nails veteran (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, as Ford), and so on), following them as they lose guys getting to the ground in the middle of a ferocious air battle and slip into the French village below the castle.
The remaining four Americans hole up in the home of a young French woman, her vulnerable little brother and her mysterious aunt, who was exposed to some horrible disease when in the custody of the evil Nazis at the castle. This is the first hint of something “other” about the story. Supernatural elements accumulate as the GIs get closer to their objective, until a full picture emerges of what is going on in the labs beneath the stone structure: the Nazi scientists are conducting torturous experiments on the villagers in order to create immortal “super-soldiers” for the Reich. Yes, we are talking--gasp!--Nazi zombies!
So, of course, our heroes must not only take out the radio tower, they also must destroy the labs and all evidence of the work that has been done there. (For as Ford points out, the Americans and their allies wouldn’t hesitate to use such heinous technology either, if it fell into their hands.) Heroism ensues, saving the brave French woman and her brother in the process, too, along with the sacrifice and wise-cracking humor we identify with the Greatest Generation.
I read something recently (on Facebook, that source of all such conflict-baiting) which amounted to a generational whine about Baby Boomers from Millennials. One of their Top Ten complaints about us, apparently, is, “Why do they keep talking about the Nazis all the time?”
Um, well, the first and best answer is that no one should ever forget the horror Nazi Germany perpetuated upon the world, especially when their nationalist philosophy is resurgant in so many countries today, including our own. The murder of 13 Jews in their synagogue in Pittsburgh just weeks ago is ample proof of that.
But the writer in me wants to argue that the Nazis also make the best villains in the history of fiction. They are dogmatic and cruel, sadistic and powerful. They are a juggernaut of evil at the same time that they are a caricature of themselves. If you set out to create a larger-than-life Evil Villain, you could not come up with anything “better” than a run-of-the-mill Nazi commandant.
That is certainly the case in Overlord, where Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), the smarmy commander of the Nazi garrison where all the action takes place, is hateful enough in his human form, but gloriously terrifying in his hideous super-soldier form. It takes an act of almost superhuman strength and determination to defeat him, an act of supreme selflessness and courage. That the writer, Billy Ray (Hunger Games, Captain Phillips) uses this moment to such effect elevates the film beyond its mere horror movie tropes.
The villains are not the only characters who stand out in Overlord. Though Boyce and Ford (and New York tough guy Tibbet—John Magaro) are typical war-movie standbys, the actors all play their roles with gusto. The French family, resisting against all odds, is a nice touch. And the special effects of this film—the exploding planes and ripping bullets of the opening air battle, the gruesome make-up—are superior, giving Overlord an authenticity it might not have had otherwise.
All in all, a nice surprise at the cineplex, and a much better than average SF/horror film. A definite GO, if that is your cup of tea.