7th November 2018 (UK)
On the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion's success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation. They find themselves fighting against supernatural forces, part of a Nazi experiment.
Wyatt Russell, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk
In Julius Avery’s gory World War Two horror Overlord, a group of soldiers find themselves behind enemy lines to disable a radio tower on the eve of D-Day. But there’s more going on in the small French town than the Nazi’s usual evil antics. The enemy are taking the innocent residents into a church, with most of them never returning. But for the ones who do, it’s clear there’s something sinister taking place inside.
Led by explosives expert Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), the five soldiers must venture into the unknown to discover the truth of what the Germans are up to in the church while still having to complete their mission of destroying the tower.
War is horrifying enough as it is, but that doesn’t stop the horror genre from using it as a backdrop for their projects meant to entertain. From video games (Call of Duty has a remarkably popular zombies mode and the long-running Wolfenstein franchise is clearly an inspiration for Overlord) to movies (1999’s cannibal flick Ravenous is set in the 19th Century amidst the Mexican-American War, 2002’s trenchfooted Deathwatch pitted ghosts against World War One soldiers and WWII submarine shocker from the same year Below takes the scares underwater) real-life battles are a popular choice for generating fictitious fear.
The latest addition to this subgenre, Overlord, is more of a gross exaggeration of reality than an entirely new concept. It’s no secret that the Nazi’s performed medical experiments on prisoners in the 1940’s and in that respect the film could understandably be seen as tasteless. But what’s surprising about Overlord is just how straight-faced it tells the story. The majority of horrors which use World War Two as their time period seem to be over-the-top, campy affairs. Films such as the cult comedy zombie horror Dead Snow and the 1975 exploitation flick Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS keep their tongues in their cheeks to keep themselves distanced from the stark, brutal reality of what they’re mocking.
Overlord mostly plays it serious, never becoming an all-out Grindhouse-esque picture a la Planet Terror. There’s plenty of gruesome imagery and some incredibly impressive creature effects that pay homage to the ones featured in John Carpenter’s The Thing, but those looking for endless hordes of the undead running after the protagonists are likely to be disappointed with the small number of monsters on show here.
In fact, most of its runtime is dedicated to being a mission focused war movie with ominous supernatural elements rather than the other way around. Overlord’s characters are as clear cut as they come too, with the Nazi’s being as archetypal as they’ve ever been. Every officer or soldier on the Axis side is pure, unbridled evil with no good bone in their bodies. It almost gets to primitive point of booing them when they’re on screen and cheering when the Allies show up.
The worst of the lot is Doctor Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) who is the fundamental embodiment of what High School history classes have taught us about those ‘orrible Nazis. He’s an irredeemable piece of work, seemingly pulled straight from the levels of the previously mentioned Wolfenstein games.
As for our heroes, they’re the typical bunch of rag-tag soliders. There’s Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a kind hearted private who’s not cut out for this, Tibbet (John Magaro) a wise-cracking gum chewing cynic, avid photographer Chase (Ian De Caestecker), aspiring author Dawson (Jacob Anderson) and of course Ford, the grizzled Corporal whose tunnel-visioned on the task at hand. They’re helped by villager Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who has had enough of Nazi’s snatching up her friends in the middle of the night. Overlord offers nothing new in terms of characterisation, but there’s enough banter and personality clashes between them all for it to be engaging and, at times, comical.
It manages to maintain its brisk pace for the duration too, despite the occasional lull when there’s unnecessary attempts to flesh out the characters. But they’re quickly dealt with by subsequent scenes not for the squeamish as writers Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith know what we really came to see – some Nazi ass-kicking and buckets of blood. Ray and Smith, who between them have impressive scribe credits of The Revenant (Smith) and Captain Phillips (Ray) deliver both in spades, with more than one occasion making me wince – which, given I’ve endured the sadistic A Serbian Film, is no mean feat.
Its eventual reveal may be a little disappointing, but Overlord is a welcome injection of throwback B-movie magic parading as a modern blockbuster that will be best enjoyed as part of a midnight marathon.
Clear cut Good vs Evil story
Fantastically gruesome effects
Not a lot of creatures, so never get full scope of the Nazi's plan
Infrequent lulls in interest when script tries to flesh out characters