dir. Julius Avery

by Dakota Drobnicki

Take a look at the theater listings today: a couple established franchises staking their claims on the public once again, another expensive live-action Disney film that was dead on arrival, and an outlying refreshment in the form of Bad Robot’s zombie war film Overlord. Take a good look and bask in the theatrical presence of a film like this before its kind disappears entirely  from the big screen.

Some who have their eyes on this sort of thing might ask why a movie like Overlord came to the big screen at all—didn’t this same company just release The Cloverfield Paradox to Netflix this year, where every other non-franchise movie seems to be headed for nowadays? Personally I’m glad, but I knew from the start that this movie would see the numbers it did this past weekend.

Before Overlord came out, I asked one of my filmmaker friends if they’d heard any whispers of how much this film cost to make, fearing the inevitable. His response: “I’m guessing not more than $10 million,” which would be Blumhouse’s numbers, essentially. The trailers showed more involving CGI work than this estimate would allow—if you can’t even (badly) erase a mustache off someone’s face with CGI without it setting you back $4 million, there’s no way that, this low-ball number would have sufficed.

Sure enough it sits in the realm of $38-40 million, but his estimate is where the movie ended up this opening weekend: about $10 million nationwide, finishing third at the box office behind the newest desecration of Dr. Seuss’ legacy ($66 million) and the borderline offensive rewrite of Freddie Mercury’s ($31 million). Those of you who still complain and want original films back on the big screen, take note of these numbers.

What about the movie itself, though? Is it destined for transcendent cult classic status or is it doomed to be another casualty of a system still in the midst of transforming itself? It’s certainly excellent enough to deserve the former, but even more deserving films have fallen prey to the latter.

The night before D-Day and following a vicious aerial assault, a group of paratroopers are dropped into a Nazi-occupied French village which holds a radio tower in its central church. Their orders: to destroy the tower and cut off Nazi communication to allow for the storming of the beaches. Led by Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt), the soldiers follow a civilian woman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) into the village, where they soon learn the extent of the Nazis’ grasp on the area.

They take a particularly slimy SS officer (Pilou Asbæk) hostage when Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) inadvertently makes his way into the church where the tower is held, and discovers genetic experimentation that re-animates the dead into super-soldiers. Before long, the officer breaks free of the soldiers’ hold and makes it back to the lab himself, leading to a pretty epic confrontation.

The writers of Overlord were smart to play this movie as straight-laced as possible, as many films that blend zombies with other genres tend to dive headlong into goofier territory. This is not inherently a mark against those films as long as they can make good use of it; nonetheless, it’s nice to have some variety in this ever-dwindling genre.

The entire film is played in the vein of WW2 actioners like The Inglorious Bastards (not the Tarantino film, although honestly there are shades of that here, too), just with a higher budget and a firmer grasp on quality control. Julius Avery found the perfect way to toe the line with the material given, and the actors are all taking it as seriously as one would a film like Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. An imbalance anywhere would’ve likely thrown the entire movie off-kilter.

Shades of the Re-Animator series and Frankenstein’s Army are all over the second half once the lab is discovered; if anyone’s familiar with the fate of Santiago Segura’s character in the underrated Beyond Re-Animator, this movie flips the same ordeal into an interesting turn of events—as its climactic showdown, no less.

I can only hope that word of mouth will convince people to go see it—around here it should be open until Nov. 22, as movies that flop at the box office are at least guaranteed their two weeks. I wouldn’t necessarily equate seeing this particular movie with supporting the continued theatrical runs of movies like it here, but who’s to say, really?

After all, the theater in this town didn’t play Get Out or BlacKkKlansman until their third weekends (and after social media uproar) and noticeably hasn’t played a single Tyler Perry movie in the last two years. We’re talking about movies that are wildly successful on a national level here. Modestly-budgeted original IP fare like Overlord that are even less of a guaranteed solid return on investment might one day be in the club of what the Bemidji theater routinely skips, and that would be just as much of a shame.

Whether or not this would happen, the movie is just worth your time if you have even the slightest interest in war films, zombie films or anything else in between. It may not have a star-studded cast or the benefit of attachment to an established franchise, but it is an excellent example of genre cinema in 2018, especially of ones given the benefit of a wide theatrical release.

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