Nazi zombie movie lacks heart
Blockbuster features plenty of action, light on depth
Starring Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell
● Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
● 18A ● 110 minutes
★★½ out of five SMALL platoon of soldiers takes on a secret assignment to destroy a secret German outpost in France where, to their amazement, some sinister experiments are underway involving biological weaponry.
Curiously, the plot of the new J.J. Abrams-produced studio thriller Overlord bears a pronounced resemblance to the relatively small-time indie thriller Trench 11, shot in Manitoba a couple of years back and released this summer, right down to the matching loglines.
Where Trench 11 has a legitimate claim to the status of low-budget indie, Overlord is clearly the product of bigger money. It is set during the final days of the Second World War (as opposed to Trench 11’s Great War epoch) finding an assortment of soldiers parachuting through heavy fire into rural France. (This opening sequence transposes Saving Private Ryan-style combat carnage into the key of B-movie.)
Once they’re behind enemy lines, a quartet of soldiers discover the church where the Nazis have built a communications tower that happens to be crawling with German soldiers under the command of a particularly heinous SS
Aofficer named Wafner (Pilou Asbaek). There is more going on here than communications.
They learn this first-hand after they come to the aid of one of the few remaining French villagers, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) whose wheezing sickly aunt, a guinea pig in a Nazi doctor’s experiment, looks like the offspring of an unholy marriage between The Thing and The Blob. At this point, it should be noted that while the film’s content will veer into the gory-grotesque vein of the ’80s horror classic Re-Animator, its main building blocks are very much constructed from the classic platoon-on-a-mission movie.
The main protagonist Boyce (Jovan Adepo) has a reputation for cowardice that he is obliged to overcome.
Lt. Ford (Wyatt Russell) is the reluctant commander who is nevertheless bent on achieving his mission whatever the cost. Tibbett (John Magaro) is a hard-bitten, cynical big-city wiseguy who will nonetheless come through when the chips are down. And so forth.
In any other movie, that would feel like a charming homage. But here, it feels like screenwriter Billy Ray was just kind of grasping at straws to deliver some kind of characters with whom we could get on side in expedient fashion.
Under the direction of Julius Avery, we are only just sufficiently invested to stay with it when the action starts getting over-the-top as our brave lads face off against, for lack of a better description, Nazi zombies.
This is not the first Nazi zombie movie, kids. In fact, it’s been a persistent little subgenre dating back to the 1960s (The Frozen Dead), the ’70s (Shock Waves) and well into the new millennium (Outpost, Dead Snow).
A sound rationale for Nazi zombie movies remains. As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, Nazis, like the ranks of the undead, do keep coming back.
But even in a film where the main protagonist is black, the movie is curiously reticent about addressing the whole “master race” thing in any meaningful fashion, no matter how pertinent the issue has become. That stuff seems to have gotten lost in the film’s big-budget-blockbuster mission.
One can’t help feeling the film might have been better off as a small, scrappy movie. Sure, it would mean a possible downgrade of production values. But there might also be a redeeming augmentation: the righteous rebel heart of a true indie.
Jovan Adepo (left) stars as Boyce alongside Dominic Applewhite as Rosenfeld in Overlord, a movie set in the Second World War.
Soldiers uncover horrific Nazi experiments in Overlord.