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Overlord (2018)

Paramount Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 2/19/2019

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/31/2019

 

For decades, the formula has been in place and it has been very clear – a big-budget movie will be a hit and then the low-budget exploitation rip-offs will follow.  This trend really took off in the 1950s when the Roger Cormans and Samuel Z. Arkoffs of the world decided that they could spend just a few bucks and fool the public into thinking that their movie was just as good as the popular hit.  The last decade saw the rise of The Asylum, a company which unabashedly released knock-offs with titles like Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train, and The DaVinci Treasure.  However, there are always exceptions to the rule and patterns can go in the opposite direction.  That’s how we now how the big-budget World War II horror film Overlord.

It's 1944 and World War II is reaching a turning point.  A group of U.S. paratroopers are flying over France, preparing for a secret mission.  However, anti-aircraft fire hits their plane and only a few soldiers make it to the ground.  Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Ford (Wyatt Russell), Tibbet (John Magaro), and Chase (Iain De Caestecker) regroup and make their way to a small town where their assignment is to destroy a radio tower.  They meet a local named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who provides shelter and gives them details about the church where the tower is located.  The soldiers quickly learn two things – the Nazi soldiers in the town are twisted and there are some bizarre experiments happening in the church.  They will have to find a way to complete their mission while fighting an enemy who is beyond anything that they ever imagined.

Those who aren’t aware may be surprised to know that there’s an entire sub-genre of Nazi exploitation films.  Beginning with Love Camp 7 in 1969, grindhouse theaters saw titles like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1974) (which spawned three sequels), SS Hell Camp (1977), and SS Experiment Camp (1976).  Among other things, these movies touch on bizarre experiments (both real and imagined) carried out by the Nazis during World War II.  These were truly exploitation films in the sense that most would consider them tasteless, but their influence was undeniable.  The themes found in these movies continued to pop up here and there over the years, with 2013’s Frankenstein’s Army bringing the ideas of out-of-control Nazi science to their ultimate extreme.

Despite its pedigree of having uber-producer J.J. Abrams behind it and a budget which could have made 40 Ilsa movies, Overlord clearly has similar DNA to the above-mentioned films.  And while this doesn’t have the sleaze-factor found in the Z-grade films, there is definitely a scene with an inappropriate sexual tone.  The first half may feel like a standard World War II film, but once the Nazi lab is discovered, things take a definite turn and this becomes much more of a horror movie.  There are some decidedly grotesque things happened in the lab and one of the creatures is truly disturbing.  The third act becomes quite violent with explosions, impalings, and bullet-riddled heads.

But, completing the transformation from exploitation to Hollywood film, Overlord plays things way too safe and never becomes the movie that it could have been.  To be sure, the movie does contain some horrific imagery which would shock the typical middle-of-the-road viewer, but there’s nothing here that horror fans haven’t seen before.  The finale contains a fair amount of action, but the monster movie which was implied all along never materializes.  It would be unfair to say that the film deviates from a pre-determined path, but there’s no doubt that Overlord walks up to the precipice of going completely nuts, but never takes that final step.

This results in a movie which ultimately has a very narrow audience.  Those who are thrilled by the gritty World War II action in the first act may be completely turned off by the monstrosities found in the lab.  Conversely, viewers who are aware of the turn in the story will be disappointed by the overall lack of horror movie elements.  Also, these same viewers may be less forgiving about the lack of originality seen here.  The movie plays very similarly to Frankenstein’s Army and obviously owes a debt to the aforementioned Nazi experiment films.  On a purely technical level, Overlord works quite well.  The movie has a great look and the cast is impressive, with Russell following his dad into the role of unlikely horror hero.  But, instead of being the ultimate big-budget World War II horror movie, Overlord pulls too tightly on the reins, leaving us with a film which is competent, but not satisfying.

Overlord contains some significant historical inaccuracies on 4K UHD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.  The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 50 Mbps.  The image is very sharp and clear, showing just a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials.  This is a very dark movie, but the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible.  There aren’t any bright colors here, but the greens look especially good.  The level of detail is very good and the depth works quite well, most notably in the exterior scenes.  The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  The surround and subwoofer effects during the action sequences, most notably in the opening scene, are outstanding.  However, the sound effects due overwhelm the dialogue at times.  That aside, the stereo and surround effects are nicely detailed, and the subwoofer delivers wall-shaking bass.

The extra features for Overlord are found on the Blu-ray Disc included here.  “The Horrors of War” is a six-part making-of featurette which runs about 52-minutes.  Almost immediately, the piece touches on the historical inaccuracies in the film.  From there, the mini-movie focuses on many aspects of the film’s production, from the development of the script to the casting to the production design to the costumes to the stunts.  There is a specific focus on the creation of the opening scene.  The monster effects also get attention.  A great deal of this is dedicated to the creation of the sets and recreations of locations.

Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long