'Overlord': A Movie Inside of a Video Game
Written by Kevin Donaldson
This Thanksgiving movie season -- this holiday movie season? I don’t know really know what we call this time of year with big family releases that either entirely tie in to Christmas or sort of do like The Grinch, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, to the beginning of the Oscar film releases like Green Book; it’s definitely a time of year that has its niche releases. Seemingly buried in... whatever this time of year is called for movies, is a really bizarre flick that I’m shocked was given a $38 million dollar budget from Paramount and J.J. Abrams's company Bad Robot Productions -- Overlord.
Now, when I say I’m shocked, it’s not at all because it’s a bad movie or anything like that. In fact, I really liked this movie. It feels like something my best friend and I would find on some deep cable horror channel and throw it on thinking it’ll be trash but then getting pleasantly surprised. The basic premise is that a team of American soldiers is sent into a small French village the night before that infamous Allied invasion of Normandy Beach during World War II, now known as D-Day. This group’s mission is to parachute down at night and make their way to a Nazi tower overlooking the town, plant explosives, and blow the hell out of the place in order to give Allied forces a leg up over the Nazis during that real-life and still seemingly insane siege of Normandy Beach. Sounds textbook WWII war film, right?
After some character introductions through dialogue on the plane before parachuting down, setting up relations for the small part of the already small team we eventually follow, our main character Pvt. Ed Boyce parachutes out of the plane into pure chaos through the air. After he lands, the team gets together, and we hit more of the clichés from a war film until they make into the Nazi-occupied French town where things get weird. Really weird. Before going forward, I want to show you the trailer, as everything I will say is not a spoiler unless you haven’t seen the trailer:
I don’t want to get into spoilers at all, but as you see, this becomes a horror movie -- but it’s not just a horror movie; it’s a B-movie with a big budget. I bring that up because, as a lover of B-movies that honestly like when they have both good things and terrible things, this one hits all the good side of that. It’s campy and over-the-top at times, but it also has elements of a Quentin Tarantino movie if he ever delved into sci-fi historical horror. (It’s no secret too that Tarantino loves B-movies.) From how outrageously OTT the main villain (who is not Hitler) becomes by the end, to how excessive the violence and gore is, to the sheer disregard for human life the movie gives to Nazis like they give to villagers in this film, add in an actually well-crafted script and you got a darn good movie. Overlord understands what it is at its core of being a combination of a lot of genres that derives its style from B-movies, but the final aspect of influence I saw that really stuck out to me is video games.
Overlord doesn’t seem to pay homage to any single video game (but I say this knowing I could be wrong since there are a ridiculous amount of video games in existence at this time), but its visual style made me feel like I was in one. When Pvt. Ed Boyce launches himself out of the plane in the beginning and tumbles through the air, it has a video game feel, but what oddly enough struck me most was the subtle way he lands. As he gets up after being tossed through the air like a rag doll and composes himself to begin walking, it’s like something I’ve seen many times at the start of a video game when you begin your adventure with your character, who has been dropped into whatever the bonkers situation is. Even the way the camera pans from his side to go over his shoulder is the exact distance from camera to object and the exact way it’s pretty much always done in your modern action/adventure video games. It translates to times when we’re with Pvt. Boyce or other characters as they covertly sneak around, hide, or run from a threat. A lot of the angles switch from being more like a movie to more like a video game seamlessly.
Oddly enough, it does the same thing we’ve seen in other movies over the years where a character happens to find a weapon they need at the moment to stop their immediate threat. This is probably the first film I’ve ever seen that act out visually that moment when guiding our characters to find the weapons they need, moreso like a video game than like a movie would. It’s hard to describe, but I’m sure any video game lover who sees Overlord would know what I’m talking about when these moments occur.
Lastly, what was most refreshing about this Hollywood movie is that I could barely recognize a single actor. Earlier, I didn’t credit the actor playing our main character of Pvt. Boyce on purpose, because I’ve never seen Jovan Adepo before in anything. He was apparently in Fences and Mother!, both in 2016 and 2017, and that’s it for movies. His TV credits don’t read too long either, with his biggest current credit being in 11 episodes of “The Leftovers”. With a longer body of work comes actor John Magaro as one of the other soldiers, but he’s really only known for things I’m not too familiar with; however, he did ironically voice a character in Rockstar Games’ school version of Grand Theft Auto, Bully. Our female lead, who plays a badass French villager named Chloe, is Mathilde Ollivier, who has next to no credits but seems to have hit a niche with Overlord since she will be in the upcoming Untitled Female Driven WWII Spy Thriller according to IMDB.
Rounding out the main cast are 2 men who look like other famous actors, with Pilou Asbæk playing the Nazi villain Cpt. Wafner. Asbæk struck me because he looked so darn familiar, and while I think he’s a dead ringer for Michael Shannon, it's also because his biggest role is as Euron Greyjoy on “Game of Thrones”. He has also been in a number of bigger budget action movies including Lucy and Ghost in the Shell.
Finally, we have the leader for the American demolition squad, who looked to me like he could be Alexander Skarsgåd’s brother more than Alexander Skarsgård’s actual brother but is actually the son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Wyatt Russell. (This is probably the only movie where he looks like a Skarsgård.) You can see shades of Kurt Russell in Escape from New York a lot in son Wyatt throughout Overlord and that’s a good thing! While Wyatt’s inclusion in the film does fit in more with Hollywood casting-wise than what I thought was going on with the film, it’s still welcomed as such, since he is perfect in his role. It also should be pointed out that Wyatt has been in other things like 22 Jump Street and an episode of “Black Mirror”; however, it really feels like he’s actually putting in the work to become an actor in his own right, rather than aping off the fame of his parents, which is admirable and pays off great in a movie like this.
Here’s my advice to you: Go see Overlord. I would say see it as soon as you can because it’s not doing great at the box office, so I don’t know how long it’ll stay in theaters, especially with how it needs to compete against the newly-released Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald now. If you must wait, then I would say, if you’re seeking an escape from your family on Thanksgiving night, specifically if you’re in a family that waits outside of Target until they open early for Black Friday, then go see this. Amazon has more stuff and better deals anyway, so just skip Target Black Friday and use your time on this. You won’t be disappointed, and its excuse to get away from any obnoxious little cousins because this movie is so over the top gory and disgusting that they’ll never be able to see it!
(Image via Paramount Pictures)
- Kevin Donaldson, YH Contributing Writer