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Mathilde Ollivier and Jovan Adepo star in Overlord.

Paramount Pictures

  • Overlord
  • Directed by Julius Avery
  • Written by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith
  • Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell and Mathilde Ollivier
  • Classification 18A; 109 minutes

rating

At first blush, using the Second World War as fodder for a zombie movie might seem in poor taste. But that hasn’t stopped the film industry from doing just that since, oh, before the war was even over.

Jean Yarbrough’s zany King of the Zombies mashed the two genres together (albeit without ever explicitly using the term “Nazis”) back in 1941. And the decades since have produced enough questionable efforts (Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, Dead Snow, Bloodrayne: The Third Reich) to constitute a healthy subgenre, which I’m going to dub, hmm, let’s say, "the Nazombie movie.”

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With that presumed trepidation out of the way, what’s to stop producer J.J. Abrams from diving into the genre with his own brand of superslick, superefficient, but ultimately superficial update? With the new thriller, Overlord, Abrams is having his Nazis and letting them eat you, too.

To clarify, Abrams is only producing here, with directing duties handled by relative newcomer Julius Avery and a script courtesy of industry veterans Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant). Yet, Overlord has Abrams’s sticky fingers all over it – digits gluey from repeated swipes at other people’s property, which here includes everyone from Joe Dante to Paul W.S. Anderson to Steven Spielberg, the granddaddy of Abrams’s vision-board. That’s not a bad batch to borrow from, though, and by the end, Overlord feels, if not greater than the sum of its Frankensteined parts, at least a monster worth mashing (sorry, it’s Halloween eve as I write this and the song is refusing to leave my head).

Avery perhaps inflates expectations with Overlord’s first few minutes, an astounding bit of in-air combat footage introducing us to the main players: nervous private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), his tough-as-nails corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and a handful of other all-American grunts who die pretty quickly. As the troops prepare to parachute into Nazi-occupied France, Avery dials up the real-world carnage of warfare so high that any horrors to come afterward would, and should, feel absurd.

It’s an intense and sharp opening that would impress Spielberg, if he could hear the dang thing. Nearly the entire movie is torpedoed by its cranked-to-11 sound mix, with a good chunk of dialogue drowned out by whirring airplanes and myriad explosions. It’s as if Christopher Nolan’s notorious Interstellar mix was an inspiration for Avery and not a “what did he say???” warning.

Mostly, though, Avery sticks close to the genre playbook, with a few set pieces before the film flips over from men-on-a-mission territory into pure zombie horror. Overlord’s version of Nazis, you see, are not only engaging in all manner of expected evil atrocities, but also branching out into the kind of ultraevil territory reserved for the supernatural. Once Boyce, Ford and their newfound fixer, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), figure out their enemies' plans, it’s a well-executed, race-against-the-clock third act to save the war and the world.

As gross and gory as some of Overlord’s latter half is, though, you can’t help but feel the lack of over-the-top bombast promised by Avery early on. A Nazi or two with gaping holes where their jaws should be is fun and all, but the inherent insanity that comes with such a high concept seems oddly toned down by the finale. If you’re going to make the Nazombie movie to end all Nazombie movies, as Abrams surely intended, then you have to bleed yourself dry.

Overlord opens Nov. 9.

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