When you hear the words “Bad Robot,” you think of Cloverfield. You think of Lost. You think of J.J. Abrams. What you don’t think of is a hard-R rated World War II movie with zombies. But if director Julius Avery has his way, that’ll all change very soon.
Avery is the director of Overlord, which opens December 6. In the film, a group of American soldiers is shot down over Nazi-occupied France and must complete their mission or the invasion of Normandy won’t happen. What they don’t realise is the mission will include defeating an army of zombies the Nazis have created to take over the world.
“It’s like Indiana Jones on acid,” Avery told Gizmodo at Fantastic Fest after the film’s world premiere. “It has all the intense action and the crazy sci-fi horror stuff, but also these great characters to latch on to.”
Avery himself is a character you can latch on to. Overlord is only his second film, but the journey he undertook to make it is one that makes you believe there’s still good in this world. “I come from Perth, West Australia,” he said. “I’m just a kid from the country and I know it sounds like a complete cliché but, I mean, this is what dreams are made of.”
Avery’s first feature was 2014's Son of a Gun, starring Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites, and Alicia Vikander. That may sound impressive, but despite the cast, it didn’t find much of an audience and just barely holds a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Among the film’s fans, however, was J.J. Abrams. As the story goes, one day Avery got a call from Bad Robot telling him that Abrams saw Son of a Gun and wanted to meet him. “[At first] you feel really nervous,” Avery said. “This is someone you put on a pedestal but he quickly sweeps it away. He’s very casual and very disarming.”
He and Abrams talked over a bunch of different ideas and scripts, and finally landed on Overlord, written by Billy Ray. Avery was drawn to the film’s wild mix of genres and thought he could get them all perfectly balanced. “I spent a lot of time trying to thread the emotion and action,” Avery said. “I wanted to keep it tense and moving, but still take moments to have time with the characters—it makes for a more well-rounded experience.”
Part of that experience involved making Overlord Bad Robot’s first R-rated film ever, a decision that literally wasn’t made until everyone was on set. “The studio always agreed for us to shoot R-rated footage,” Avery said. “But it wasn’t until like the first day of shooting that everyone agreed this can be hard R. So we didn’t have to do coverage. Everyone realised this is the best version of the movie.”
As the movie was being made, people on the outside began to speculate Overlord may be another one of Bad Robot’s Cloverfield movies. The assumption made sense. Since that 2008 hit, Bad Robot has made two small genre movies (10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Paradox that filmed under different titles and were, very late in the process, revealed to be part of this burgeoning, fan-favourite shared universe. Overlord, with its mysterious genre plot and uneventful title, seemed to follow the same pattern — but, in fact, it never had anything to do with Cloverfield. Still, Avery didn’t mind the speculation.
“Not everything that that comes out of [Bad Robot] is going to be a Cloverfield movie,” Avery said. “The Cloverfield franchise is really cool and because it’s so cool, [people] see the Bad Robot logo, they see J.J. Abrams’ name, and they put two and two together. This is its own beast but it’s great that everyone was showing a lot of interest in it.”
Once filming was complete, Abrams had his own beast to tackle, in the form of Star Wars: Episode IX. Both Abrams and Avery were working on their films in the same building at the same time — and despite Abrams working on one of the biggest films of all time, Avery still found his producer and mentor completely accessible. “What I love about him is that he workshops an idea until it’s right and if it isn’t right, we workshop it some more,” Avery said. “And that can be completely challenging at times but I learned a lot from that. You’ve got to get it right.”
If early reviews (including ours) are any indication, Avery did get it right. Another clue is that the director is already attached to make a new Flash Gordon movie, and Overlord hasn’t even opened yet. It seems that kid from Western Australia is well on his way, and the only monsters he needed were a few Nazi zombies.
Overlord opens November 9.