Take World War II, add a blood spatter of zombie madness, and you get the absurd, gory and breathtakingly awesome Overlord, a heart-pounding piece of revisionist history and B-movie popcorn filmmaking that works on many different levels.
The films takes place the day before D-Day. A paratrooper squad is assigned to take out a German Radio tower the day before Allied forces touch down on the beaches of Normandy. But while en route, their plane is shot down, and the squad jumps for land. The chaos just leaves Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and only a handful of survivors, including Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo). The survivors make their way to the Nazi-occupied village that houses the radio tower, and on their way there, they meet a French civilian named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). She takes them into the village, where she lives with her young brother Paul (Gianny Taufer) and their aunt, who hides in a room as the result of experimentation by the Nazis that has left her disfigured. They are soon unexpectedly joined by Nazi officer Doctor Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), whom the squad takes prisoner and tortures for information after he attempts to assault Chloe. The torture drives Boyce away, but unexpected circumstances force him into an underground lab, where he finds that Nazis are experimenting with the local villagers and turning them into immortal, hostile zombie-like shells of their former selves. It’s a race to survive a new enemy as D-Day looms.
Overlord plays like a self-aware B-movie, but what sets it apart is that despite its simple intentions, the film has a craftsmanship and a sense of pacing that stands up to comparison with some more mainstream escapist filmmaking. Director Julius Avery, who previously helmed the thriller Son of a Gun that showcased a lot of the shameless genre thrills on display here, keeps the film on the move. He effortlessly moves from one viscerally gnarly set piece to the next with ease. While the pace is fast, it is never exhausting. The film always manages to rise above every horror and war cliché it has through sheer energy. One of the aspects that add to the sense of dread is the set design. The laboratory is a grimy, maze-like labyrinth that fits in perfectly with the tone of the film. The creature design is also great, with a mixture of make-up and computer generated effects morphing the body in gruesome and uncomfortable ways. An atmospheric and pulsating score by Jed Kurzel underlines the action.
While this film has B-movie ambitions, the actors (with one notable glorious exception) take the material seriously, and their performances help enhance the film. Adepo and Ollivier, especially, are very relatable in their roles. Russell also shines in his role, as his drive to complete the mission takes a toll on his psyche. The only actor embracing the B-movie absurdity is Asbæk, who plays a cartoonishly delightful villain chewing up every scene he is in.
Overlord will not have you thinking about the dangers of war. It will not really require you to think at all. But unlike some other dumb escapist movies, this film goes all out on everything it offers and never holds back. Overlord is a B-movie with A-grade execution. | Bill Loellke