This Is a Movie Review: ‘Overlord’ is Evidence That the Nazi Mad Scientist Genre is Still Relevant

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, Gianny Tauffer, Iain De Caestecker, Jacob Anderson, Bokeem Woodbine

Director: Julius Avery

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Soldier Profanity, War Violence, and Bloody Disturbing Mad Science

Release Date: November 9, 2018

It turns out that Nazism was never fully obliterated from the planet. Indeed, it’s 2018, and there are still people who are willing to self-identify as Nazis out in the open. So why shouldn’t there still be movies about evil Nazi doctors experimenting on people? They could even be set in the present day without straying too far from reality. Overlord, for one, is set during World War II, and the combat setting certainly cranks up the terror, but I cannot help but wonder if it would be even scarier if its characters stumbled upon a still-functioning Nazi mad science bunker in the 21st century.

What is striking about Overlord is its hybrid nature. This isn’t a war movie that turns into a monster movie once the experiments are stumbled upon. Instead, it remains very much a war movie even after the monsters start stalking around. The mission that sets off the action is an American paratrooper squad flying in to destroy a German radio tower in a church on the eve of D-Day. When they discover the experiments taking place within the church’s attic, they are steely enough to not be overwhelmed. They are freaked out, sure, but they still have to complete the mission. If they can manage to blow up the lab and save a little French boy while they’re at it, then all the better!

The experimentation consists of little more than inserting a serum into recently deceased soldiers, but things get really weird when the wounded-but-not-quite-dead start using it as well. The results of these injections manage to be so disturbing because they do not exactly heal any wounds but instead just bypass them. Supersoldiers are created, but they have gaping holes in their bodies and faces, not to mention the side effects of thoroughly oily skin and violently protruding bones. It is a credit to the main characters’ courageousness that they are able to behold affronts to nature and still plow forward with their mission. The message is therefore: the Nazis may be formidable, but we can still defeat them! Monsters exist, and we all need to be prepared

Overlord is Recommended If You Like: Classic mad scientist creature features, with maximum blood and guts and bones

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Serums

This Is a Movie Review: Could Kirsten Dunst Shock Wood if ‘Woodshock’ Could Be Good? (Spoiler Alert: It’s Not)

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CREDIT: A24

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Pilou Asbæk, Joe Cole, Lorelei Linklater, Jack Kilmer

Directors: Kate and Laura Mulleavy

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: R for Drugs, I Guess?

Release Date: September 22, 2017 (Limited)

The headline for this review was originally going to be “‘Woodshock’ Strands Kirsten Dunst in a Bunch of Random Images,” but then I decided that it would be much more appropriate to go with something nonsensical so as to keep with the spirit of the film. The directorial debut from fashion designer sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy feels like the creation of people who have never seen a movie before and only understand the medium theoretically. It essentially amounts to an academic (or anti-academic) exercise to determine the meaning of “montage.”

The plot, such as there is one, follows the perpetually on-edge life of Theresa (Dunst) and her husband Keith (Pilou Asbæk). She has recently lost her mother and is probably suffering from depression. They run a marijuana dispensary together … I think. People’s jobs and relationships to each other are not always clear. There is a tragic accident that neither the characters nor the film can come to terms with in any meaningful way.

At some point, according to the synopsis, Theresa ingests an especially potent mind-altering substance. I genuinely do not remember this, though, probably because there is no noticeable shift in the nature of the film at any point. There are some hallucinatory images, a few of which manage to be striking regardless of the context (most notably a house hovering a few feet above the ground amidst a shock of light). But if the drug has any noticeable effect on Theresa, it is perhaps in how it makes her suddenly unable to take a shower or bath. Good lord, there is a huge chunk of the running time devoted to Kirsten Dunst standing still in front of the bathroom mirror.

It is worth wondering why Woodshock fails so spectacularly while similarly subjective and inscrutable works like the oeuvre of David Lynch manage to be so powerfully affecting. Perhaps it is because even if it is not clear what the meaning of the latter is, it is not hard to intuit that there is some meaning. Maybe the Mulleavys do have something worthwhile to say, but they do not yet know how to get that across in cinematic terms.

Woodshock is Recommended If You Like: 2001, but like, on earth; Upstream Color, minus the auteurist bona fides

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Pleasant Summer Evenings