FilmSpace: Overlord; The Princess Switch

Film critic Calum Cooper looks back at some of the week’s additional releases. This week he looks at the scattershot, but enjoyably mindless war horror Overlord, alongside Vanessa Hudgen’s newest, a Netflix movie that sees her swapping places with her royal doppelgänger.

Overlord – ★★★☆☆

“Do you feel it? The blood of eternity flowing through your veins!?”

With such eloquent lines like that one, you can probably tell what kind of film you’re in for with Overlord. A joint war and horror film from Julius Avery, co-produced by J. J. Abrams, with a story by Billy Ray, we open on the eve of D-Day. A squadron of troops led by a steadfast corporal (Wyatt Russell) land behind enemy lines, in an isolated French village. Their mission is to destroy a radio tower located there in order to aid Allied forces. When they arrive Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) discovers that the Nazis are performing gruesome scientific experiments on the villagers, hoping to amass an undead army for the Reich.

Upon walking out of Overlord I knew I’d had fun with it, but I wasn’t quite sure if my enjoyment was genuine or ironic. It’s one of those cases where its dual genres end up clashing in the most over the top of ways in the climax. The film begins as a solemn war drama with a ragtag band of soldiers having to press forward after the rest of their team has been killed. Yet it ends in such an overblown manner, shrapnel flying in the form of zombies and guts as well as bullets, you’d swear the projectionist changed films by accident.

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This will probably be a source of detraction to many people, and not unjustly so. Once Private Boyce uncovers the Nazi conspiracy going on in the village he and his team are hiding in, the change in tonal gear is incredibly obvious. In fact it’s borderline jarring as the earlier war scenes, from an impressive one shot take of Boyce’s failed static line jump from his plane to nail biting scenes of the squad evading mines and night patrols, seem all but abandoned in favour of the gore and disturbances of the film’s zombie plot. The more it wanders towards horror elements of the story, the more insane and violent it gets, and it was already pretty violent to begin with.

What keeps the film engaging is the dynamic of the actors and the aesthetic appeal of the craft. None of the characters are particularly deep or interesting, but their actors embrace their roles to effect, particularly Wyatt Russell, who seemed to be having the most fun with his rigid leader persona. They make for a merry band of misfits that are decently written enough to invest in. Plus, the cinematography effectively utilises saturated light and darkness to enhance the atmosphere during both the grim revelations of the Nazi experiments and the overblown carnage that ensues in the climax.

It cruises the line between war and horror somewhat giddily before finally setting on B-movie thrills and tone by the last third. Once it does that the film seems to stick by it, becoming chaotic but self-aware, having the time of its life via its over the top kills, fights and dialogue, with Pilou Asbæk’s villainous role serving as a particular highlight.

Some may see the finished product as a tonally imbalanced mess, but I ultimately ended up enjoying this flick, flaws and all. Whether that enjoyment is mere guilty pleasure only time will tell. But I’ve always said that as long as you enjoyed the film, the kind of enjoyment you felt really doesn’t matter.

The Princess Switch – ★★☆☆☆

The Princess Switch is a Disney Channel Movie repackaged as a Netflix original.  It’s so lightweight that you can almost feel your astral body floating away from your physical being as you watch it. Being a 22-year-old male, I feel like I’m the wrong person to pass judgement on a film like this, so it may be best to take this review with an extra serving of salt.

Another rendition of The Prince and the Pauper, a tale that has had various modern retellings, Vanessa Hudgens plays Stacy, a Chicago baker who vigorously sticks to routine. She and her work colleague Kevin (Nick Sagar) enter a Christmas baking competition for the Royal Family of Belgravia, a country that I imagine is geographically located next to the kingdom of Genovia. While there Stacy meets Duchess Margaret (also Hudgens). Stunned by how identical they look, they decide to switch places for a few days, as Margaret is about to be forced into an arranged marriage with Belgravian prince Edward (Sam Palladio) and she wants to know what being normal is like.

The switch occurs and Margaret assumes Stacy’s identity, while Stacy plays the part of a princess in making. As romance and the festive season blooms, Stacy must master the curtsey and etiquette of the royal court, and Margaret must learn the art of the secret handshake. Oh the hijinks.

In all seriousness however, it is a cute idea, particularly if you or your young child is into the whole romance and princess attributes. But it doesn’t leave much in the way of compelling drama or surprises.

As romance and the festive season blooms, Stacy must master the curtsey and etiquette of the royal court, and Margaret must learn the art of the secret handshake. Oh the hijinks.

Obvious is the first word that comes to mind with this film. It’s classified as a Christmas rom-com, due to the setting and the two eventual romances that occur simultaneously (Stacy with Edward and Margaret with Kevin). And, much like Stacy’s character, it follows the traditional routine all too stubbornly. The romances are corny and build on foundations of apparent whimsy. The antagonists are cartoonishly over the top to the point of irritation. The comedy is mostly pratfalls and awkward miscommunication, and the Christmas overtones and seize the day messages are beyond hammered in. It’s comically predictable.

But at the same time, it’s completely harmless too. It’s not my thing, but then again it’s not made for me either. The story is bare-boned, but the actors do seem like they’re having a lot of fun, especially Hudgens. It’s content residing in its own little world, and I liked that it refrained from using the liar revealed or misunderstanding clichés that often plague movies like this. It knows what kind of film it is and embraces it – a feel-good holiday flick with comedy and romance, a product that will work for a lot of people. Yet it never quite won me over. Perhaps I need to get better at open mindedness, but I didn’t get much more out of it than the occasional chuckle. Whereas someone more on board with its tone might get fully invested in its corny spirit and cutesy presentation.

In the end, I didn’t think The Princess Switch was good or bad. Just fine. There are plenty of reviewers out there that got a lot more out of the film, and enthusiasm is always great. Maybe one day I’ll have a Christmas epiphany, and wake up with a new found love for this film. Or maybe I was going too hard on the eggnog again, but I’ll let the chips fall where they may.

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