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An Australian director might have just delivered one of the best flicks of the year.
“Gleefully bloody” is how one critic described 2018 American war horror film Overlord, written by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, the screenwriters behind The Hunger Games, The Vacancy, The Revenant, Captain Phillips and more.
Perhaps it’s their eclectic resumes that help set the film apart, with many viewers unable to lock it into one genre, and it being labelled “part revisionist war drama, part zombie thriller, and part all-out genre gorefest” by Rotten Tomatoes.
It was directed by Australia’s own Julius Avery, who wrote and directed 2014 crime drama Son of a Gun starring Ewan McGregor. This new film saw him oversee a star-studded cast that includes Jovan Adepo (The Leftovers, Fences), Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street), Dominic Applewhite (The King’s Speech), Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones, Ghost in the Shell), Iain de Caestecker (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and more.
Overlord tells the story of “a small group of American soldiers who find horror behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day”.
A team of American paratroopers drop into Nazi-occupied France to carry out a mission that’s crucial to the invasion’s success. They’ve been tasked with destroying a radio transmitter atop a fortified church, unaware of a mysterious Nazi lab beneath it, which is where they are confronted by “enemies unlike any the world has ever seen”.
At this point, it’s probably not surprising to hear that J.J. Abrams is attached as a producer, with rumours circulating early on that Overlord would be the fourth film in the Cloverfield series. The industry legend was quick to shut those murmurs down, describing the flick as “bat sh*t crazy” earlier this year in the same interview.
“I think the thing that I love the most about the premise was that it took a classic World War II adventure movie and it smashed it into a sort of monster/horror film,” Abrams told Flickering Myth.
“The idea of those two coexisting just felt like it could be an incredibly intense and fun ride…I feel like monster movies are great and best when you believe the situation, you believe the characters, you’re truly invested and you get something that is rationally impossible.
“What I loved about Julius’ approach to the movie is that he looked at it is if it were a mission movie, a war movie that goes to a place that is really freakish and really scary.
“He really got the feeling of what the opening needed to be to set the table for what becomes an incredibly bizarre, creepy and freaky film, but I love that he was coming into it from a place that I’d want to keep watching it just as a war film, as a thriller, as an action movie.”
That opening scene alone has critics and fans raving, with Avery quickly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.
“For me, it was about, how can I get the audience inside the action, how can I make it subjective, how can I make it first-person, how can I make it feel like they’re riding shotgun with these soldiers,” Avery told Collider.
“To do that, sometimes it’s really good to do a longer take, so really it was born out of that.”
The film has a very authentic feel to it, which is in part due to Avery wanting to keep the effects as practical as possible, as is his filmmaking style.
“Selfishly, I’m a performance director and I love giving actors the tools to do the best performance, and one of them is making it as real as possible,” he said.
“If they can look in the mirror and see [effects] makeup, I feel like it’s going to give them that extra 10%. If they’ve just got the dots or the green face, they don’t know what it’s going to [look like], and people aren’t really scared of a guy in dots or a green face.
“I always like the effects to do the light work and practical stuff to do the heavy lifting.”
For actors like Asbæk – who appears on the poster with half of his face blown off – that meant he had to spend five hours every day getting prosthetics applied, but by all accounts, it was worth the effort.
“That visceral, tactile quality is what I think is so gut-wrenching and scary, and you can’t get that with CG,” Avery told Polygon.
You can see what all the gory fuss is about when Overlord opens in Australian cinemas on December 6.