PARAMOUNT PICTURES (2018)
Director: Julius Avery
Starring: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Gianny Taufer, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine
War is hell and the Nazi’s are worse.
That’s the obvious intro out of the way. Produced by J.J. Abrams and directed by relative newbie (and soon-to-be- Flash Gordon director) Julius Avery, Overlord is the grizzly story of the hours leading up to D-Day – but with a twist. Combining the aesthetic and feel of a war movie with B-movie goodness, horror, and action, what could have been utter diarrhoea somehow ended up being pretty damn good.
With the Normandy beach landings hours away, US troops are tasked with the mission of destroying a comms lab within a church tower in order for Allied communications to get through. After a devastating Nazi defensive assault, Corporal Ford (Russell) and soldiers Boyce (Adepo), Tibbet (Magaro) and Chase (De Caestecker) are pretty much all that is left of the Allied attack. With the help of local villager Chloe (Ollivier), the troops infiltrate the town and church tower, only to find the Nazi’s are conducting hellish experiments on the dead in order to create a perfect army of soldiers. With time ticking away, the team must complete their mission whilst facing the Nazi’s, led by the brutal Officer Wagner (Asbæk) and the vicious undead.
Opening with a blistering aerial assault/obliteration, Overlord starts big and brash and never lets up – OK, it slows down slightly in the middle, but even then it remains taut with tension. Taking the World War II angle and adding more horror was an effective tool right from the go, however, with the horrendous Josef Mengele experiments as inspiration (surely?), the horror is rooted in some truth (however loose). The brutality of war is made apparent right away and the sound design helped play a huge part in this, my body shook during the opening salvo as the claustrophobic atmosphere took over – I was hooked. The vintage title cards helped with the tone also as the first half of the movie functions very effectively as a war movie. When the genre shift occurs, it’s done well, it doesn’t shift the quality drastically. However, frustratingly the final act isn’t as strong as the rest of the movie. Things do get sillier the further into the story we go but, crucially, the movie doesn’t submit to it and become pure schlock.
The two leads, Wyatt Russell and Jovan Adepo, are strong (Russell proving his dad’s tough guy genes have been passed down accordingly) though the rest of the cast aren’t particularly handed any depth – which can dampen the more dramatic scenes. What did have depth was the excellent sound design unleashed within the movie. Bone-shaking explosions and dead silence are just as nerve-shattering as each other and help propel the more tense scenes. Though the French village is small, it’s shot well, as is the entirety of the movie – there’s some great (and twisted) imagery here throughout, from the darkened woods hiding unseen enemies to the chaos of all-out war and the gruesome Nazi experiment victims. When the horror kicks in, there are shades of [REC] in terms of how the tension is handled and with some of the scares – and that will never be a bad thing.
Overlord takes a surprising dive into its messages regarding the human desire for something greater and the savage effects of war on both sides (one torture scene in particular shows the razor-thin line between ‘them’ and ‘us’). It’s these aspects, and the lack of all-out humour, that sets this apart from potentially similar offerings. What does hinder the movie is the final act. It’s action-packed and retains the fun, but it felt like it was missing that spark to really excite. The monster FX are pretty good though, and the transformations were plain awesome.
The most surprising aspect of Overlord is that it wasn’t a complete trainwreck. Much of the satisfaction comes from expectations being exceeded and whilst this isn’t the greatest movie of the year, the horror, war, and action blend surprisingly well and Overlord delivers an unashamedly fun and bloody experience.
November 7th 2018