The latest from the J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot production company at first seems to be a typical and typically unnerving WWII film. In Overlord, out Nov. 9, a team including nail-tough corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and gentle soldier Boyce (Jovan Adepo) who are dropped behind enemy lines just before D-Day must complete their mission to destroy a Nazi radio tower if the landing’s to succeed. After a brutal and realistic struggle they manage to reach the occupied town… and that’s where the movie takes a turn to a completely different kind of horror. But exactly how scary is Overlord? Given its main themes of rampant power abuse, ends justifying the means, and science bent to depravity, it’s a more visceral take on current events that might leave some feeling queasier than expected. Mild spoilers ahead.
While none of us are dealing with anything dire as Overlord’s American soldiers — facing off against an army of undead villagers resurrected with a serum that revitalizes dead tissue — there might be a twinge of familiarity beneath the gore. Anyone who’s worked in the gig economy’s unstable and highly competitive world might’ve experienced fellow folks who ideologically should be on your side attacking you at the behest of larger powers serving their own self-interests. But instead of freelancers undercutting their fellow freelancers it’s chemically dosed zombie villagers turning on their would-be liberators.
The film seems aimed at amplifying the real-life horrors of Dr. Josef Mengele’s human experimentation, with the villagers the first wave of guinea pigs on the way to perfecting a life-extending super soldier serum; as the movie’s trailer puts it, “A thousand-year army needs thousand-year soldiers.” With CNBC’s report on Google’s founders, along with Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and other tech-obsessed billionaires funding their own private research into longevity, can we be that shocked by Overlord‘s depictions of sentient body parts and once human bags of goo begging the soldiers for help?
Corporal Ford’s torture of a captured Nazi to get information is a little too on-the-nose for American actions in current events; since this is Hollywood fiction the team actually gets usable information, but not before a gory and cruel depiction of “necessary” violence. It’s meant to be morally questionable, but at the same time the film’s very clear about the good guys (us) and bad guys (Nazis), with half the film’s enjoyment centered on over-the-top fights and violent dispatches meant to be cheered. The faint of stomach should watch out and gorehounds won’t be disappointed — the film delivers on its promise of two genres’ violence slapped together and amplified, with the historical war part leaning on CGI blood and the zombie survival part using practical effects. But a commander’s early line saying to win “we have to be just as rotten as [the Nazis] are” takes some of the enjoyment (relatively speaking) out of the splatter.
If you’re hoping for entertaining escapism with buckets of body horror, the movie provides plenty of Nazi punishment, but it rings hollow in our modern-day country when just this past Oct. 24, the Philadelphia Tribune reported FBI director Chris Ray warning that the threat to America by white nationalists is dire. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes white nationalism as “espousing white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites,” and includes neo-Nazi groups reclaiming the Nazi title for themselves.
So when it comes to scares and jumps, Overlord provides plenty, but the most frightening thing will be leaving the theater and realizing maybe we didn’t win the war against Nazis yet after all.