The trailer for Overlord promised audiences a whole grocery list of things that they would experience. The words, ”chaos, fear, insanity, havoc, horror, evil, madness, terror, rage” flashed across the screen. I'm happy to report, the film delivered on its promise.
From the first act’s harrowing parachute sequence - filmed in an absolutely glorious single take - Overlord rapidly ratchets up the tension and terror in every single scene. This film is a fast-paced one. It seldom idles, unless to give us a touching character moment or an immaculately composed shot that lingers for a few seconds, serving as a jaw-dropping punctuation mark to the carnage audiences just witnessed. After a particularly intense first 20 minutes, where the breath is ripped away from audiences time and time again, the film takes time to breathe for a few frames. A tragic, yet visually stunning, shot of paratroopers who never made it to the ground. Their chutes caught in the thick branches of a foreboding forest. The silhouettes of their corpses backlit by orange-tinted smoke.
What I just described is something I had no expectation of - in Overlord, I felt every single death. Like many horror films, I simply expected every cast member to be disposable cannon fodder to service gruesome gore gags. And while many of them do meet a spectacularly gruesome end, it's never without emotional resonance.
The reason for this emotional impact is because Director Julius Avery and writer Mark L. Smith (The Revenant)allow each and every character to have an unprecedented level of humanity and depth. The supporting cast members are each given their own moment, and the performances genuinely shine. This is a war film through and through, and we are made to care for these soldiers. When one of them is picked off - it has a good amount of weight to it.
I'd be remiss not to also mention our leading man, Jovan Adepo. I'm hesitant to speak too much about his performance because it speaks pretty well for itself, but let me say, this is an actor I will be keeping an eye out for. I've never seen him before, and his performance hit me like a freight train. I guarantee - like me - you’ll find yourself googling him immediately after the movie.
In addition to packing in likable characters and emotional impact, Overlord also executes the horror elements of its gnarly premise 100%. This movie is delightfully gross, scary, and (very) gory. Thank God this film did not come out between 2002 and 2007, because they would have gone full cgi with these mutating zombie creatures (looking at you, I Am Legend), and there would have been no sense of authenticity. Luckily, I feel as though the filmmakers hit a bit of a sweet spot with the effects. There is definitely some cgi work done here, but, for the most part, it is seamlessly augmented with amazing practical make-up. Skin rips, bones crack, and a generous amount of fluids splash - making this horror fan light up with glee (and every obvious non-horror fan in my theater get amusingly squeamish). It sits comfortably along the great effects-heavy horror films of times past like John Carpenter’s The Thing. In short, it delivers the goods - and if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve only gotten a small chunk of what it has to offer. Yeah... there are a lot more bloody chunks to be seen.
My only real issue with the film is that - after the first two acts, where the threat, scope, and terror of the film is increasing rapidly, parts of the third act don’t quite go big enough to really feel like the pay-off I wanted. While some elements are executed flawlessly, there are other moments that feel somewhat meandering or non-essential. It's not botched by any means, and frankly, the disappointment in the third act is more a testament to just how good the first two acts really were. Very little could have topped what came before.
As a whole, Overlord manages to be the perfect post-Halloween treat. It stuffs as many thrills, chills, and kills as it possibly can into its hour and forty-five minute runtime, creating the type of satisfying horror experience that bloodthirsty genre fans crave.
And Vogue said 2018 was a bad year for horror. Ha.
FINAL SCORE: 4 / 5
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