One of the coolest things about the J.J. Abrams produced “Overlord” is that with the slightest of tweaks it could work as a gritty and visceral World War II Picture or a fun old-school horror gorefest. It settles on being a crazy genre mashup full of far more surprises than you would ever expect.
The film begins with a high-powered opening sequence set in the night skies over France. It’s the evening before the D-Day invasion and a paratrooper squad is set to drop behind enemy lines to destroy a German radio jamming tower strategically placed atop an old village church. Director Julius Avery’s camera hones in on Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) whose wringing hands, bouncing knee, and sweat-soaked forehead give away his nervousness.
German AA guns begin pounding the skies and bullets rip through the hull of the plane killing many of the young troops. Boyce is pushed out into the dark war-torn sky and parachutes to the Nazi-occupied countryside just south of the village. This entire sequence is exhilarating and chaotic, full of striking visual touches and some truly intense sound design. It definitely gets things off on the right foot.
On the ground Boyce is reunited with the small handful of soldiers who survived the drop. Among them is the hard-nosed Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) and the obnoxious chatterbox Private Tibbet (John Magaro). They cross paths with a French Resistance fighter named Chloe (a very good Mathilde Ollivier) who reluctantly agrees to sneak them into the village where they’ll put together a game plan to take out the tower.
So far everything could pass for a thrilling WW2 film in the vein of “Saving Private Ryan”. But oh how things change when we discover what’s going on in and underneath the church. This will only speak to gamers, but “Overlord” becomes something that would be right at home in the “Wolfenstein” video game universe. I’ll let you discover it for yourself but let’s just say the horror elements you see in the trailer are only the tip of the iceberg. The film has much crazier (and gorier) things up its cinematic sleeve.
“Overlord” is best taken as straight-forward, unbridled entertainment. It doesn’t shoot for much more than that. We see this most in its handling of the characters which we learn practically nothing about. It’s not particularly necessary for the story, but it is one thing that could have given the movie a little more depth. Still the characters manage to have their own unique contributions to the story. For example Boyce serves is the film’s conscience. Ford is the grit. Chloe is the heart. Tibbet is the humor.
While the trailers scream horror, “Overlord” packs just as much period war-time action and suspense. In fact, one of the most welcoming things is how deliberate Avery and co-writers Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith are with unleashing the horror elements. When they do come it changes the movie significantly and that’s not a bad thing. I gotta say I enjoyed the second half’s blood-soaked nuttiness and its commitment to seeing its crazy concept through to the finish line.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS