Son of a Gun - Director Julius Avery - Photograph by David Dare Parker

Interview: Overlord director Julius Avery on making ‘Indiana Jones on acid’

Australian director Julius Avery’s insane Nazi zombie movie Overlord isn’t some cheap knock-off effort. This berserko war film was produced by none other than J.J. Abrams and his production company, Bad Robot, giving it some serious street cred.

The film (which is now in cinemas) follows a unit of paratroopers who encounter a secret laboratory where Nazis are creating zombie soldiers. Pandemonium ensues.

Flicks sat down to chat with the WA-born director about making a film he describes as “Indiana Jones on acid.”

FLICKS: It’s not every week you see the words “Nazi zombie movie” combined with “critically acclaimed.” Were you surprised about the hugely positive response Overlord has received from reviewers?

Julius Avery: You’ve got to take risks that get rewards. Bad Robot has always done that. When you go into watch a Bad Robot movie you expect the unexpected. They like to take risks, and to take the familiar then elevate it to something really fresh and cool. Where else do you get to make an R-rated, completely bonkers movie like Overlord?

That’s what people are probably responding to. It feels different. It feels surprising. When I go and see a movie nowadays as a moviegoer, I want intense action. I want great horror beats and I like getting the shit scaried out of me – but I also want to be surprised. A lot of people come out of Overlord saying ‘holy shit, where the fuck did that come from?’ That’s what JJ (Abrams) does so well. He’s a genius at doing that.

Do you feel you could take more risks with this film than if you were directing a $100 million movie for Marvel?

They’re different beasts. With superhero movies you’ve got a lot more money involved and a lot more people involved. They have been doing well and when you have a winning formula, it is hard to convince people to change it. But ultimately, with everything, things can only last so long. I think audiences do want to see different things. They want to be tested. They want to feel unsafe. They want to be pushed.

The question is just how far to push them without turning them off. To turn them on you’ve got to do something that’s fun. I think this movie is fun, but it’s really intense at the same time. It’s a fine line, getting those two things working. I spent a lot of time balancing the emotion and the action.

When it comes to the future of superhero movies, do you think this current phase will end and superhero movies won’t be cool anymore?

Everything has a shelf life. Right now we’re probably at the peak of it. For me, I want to go to a movie and be surprised. That’s how I value my moviegoing experience. If I can go to a movie and get a few surprises, that for me is what I love. Some people like to go to the big action superhero franchises. Audiences have been responding to them. But there’s always enough room for other people, isn’t there? There’s always room for other stories.

In terms of your working relationship with J.J. Abrams, how did that progress?

J.J. saw my first film, Son of a Gun, and brought me in for a meeting. I was nervous because I’ve been such a fan of his films for so long. We spitballed some ideas. He said I’ve got a script called Overlord, want to check it out? I said hell yeah and I took it home and read it. It was completely bonkers, like Indiana Jones on acid. I’d never read anything like it. There was this completely insane horror, sci-fi, supernatural stuff, but at the heart of it were great characters that I was deeply moved by.