Directed by Julius Avery.
Starring Wyatt Russell, Jovan Adepo, Pilou Asbaek, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Dominic Applewhite, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Anderson, and Erich Redman.
The story of two American soldiers behind enemy lines on D Day.
If someone told me that Overlord was originally conceived to be a video game, I would believe it. That’s not a bad thing at all (for me, the entertainment medium is neck and neck with film in terms of enjoyment), but considering the quality track record for such experiences is abysmally low (especially direct adaptations), one would be forgiven in assuming that this tale centered on a group of Allied soldiers tasked with taking down a communications tower hours before D-Day whom also encounter all sorts of disturbing experiments being carried out on the locals of a nearby French village, would end up a generic and listless affair that would have worked better as interactive entertainment.
First-time director Julius Avery has a strong handle on Overlord‘s vision, fully aware that the script from Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith (both of which have worked on a number of high profile Academy Award-nominated projects) is about as predictable as it gets. If you come into Overlord surprised that the Nazis are playing god for the sake of hopefully creating super soldiers in their efforts to emerge World War II victorious, then this is probably your first B-movie genre mashup fixated on Nazis and you should probably also retake a history course. Equally standard are the individual soldiers, ranging from hotheaded corporal (Wyatt Russell) to nice guy rookie incapable of hurting a mouse (Jovan Adepo) to loudmouth jokester (John Magaro) to a journalistic photographer (Iain De Caestecker). The team also come across a French villager (Mathilde Ollivier) trying to protect her little brother while also looking after her gravely sick aunt.
None of this is particularly riveting from a narrative or character standpoint (the film does try to juxtapose Wyatt Russell’s Corporal Ford and Jovan Adepo’s Boyce as soldiers of radically different personalities with the former content and even comfortable with the thinking that they must become monsters themselves to defeat the Nazis, a notion that virtually goes nowhere once real monsters emerge, transitioning things into a barrage of nonstop action and body horror), but the relatively unknown cast and confident direction sell the hell out of familiarity with pitch-perfect execution. Julius Avery is not afraid to tell this story straightfaced, slowly building palpable dread over the film’s first hour; glimpses at what are essentially zombies, characters investigating shady laboratories and peeping through eerie door holes, and general hints at something more sinister going on are all carried out with restraint, meaning that the inevitable balls to the wall gore and chaos are that much more engaging and satisfying to witness unfold.
Again, Julius Avery knows what kind of film he is making, meaning that while he takes his time building to the horror crescendo, there’s still plenty of Nazi killing and queasy displays of barbarism thrown up on screen. Seemingly a significant other to the aforementioned female French villager Chloe, Pilou Asbaek plays an upper tier Nazi commander working with the nefarious scientists carrying out these experiments. He also is apparently a woman abuser, which prompts Ford and Boyce to butt heads regarding morality choices and staying focused on the mission objective. The depth of these characters really only go surface value, but it’s the execution that keeps things compelling.
Certain camera angles also help amplify the unnerving atmosphere, not to mention the practical makeup effects are absolutely outstanding. The serum in development yields different reactions when injected into different characters, but whatever happens is kept refreshingly gross yet awesome to gander at thanks to disturbing sights such as bones popping out of flesh, bloody jowls, severed limbs, and chest-beating action segments such as one that sees a frag grenade explode from inside a Nazi’s mouth. The plot may be going through the motions, but every other aspect of filmmaking is akin to a flamethrower torching zombies. CGI blood splatter aside, Overlord is a marvel to behold; usually one of the best looking and carefully crafted aesthetically horror pictures this year.
For anyone disappointed that Michael Myers isn’t much of a damage sponge in the recent 40 years later sequel to Halloween, come to Overlord. Here, there is a climactic battle that goes on for what feels like forever yet every second is savory from both the creativity of the killing attempts to the impressive effects. The film even finds the time to give Chloe some of her own memorable battle moments, rather than utilize her presence solely as someone for the men to the protect.
Overlord doesn’t succeed at everything it attempts; whatever subtext the filmmakers were going for with its depiction of the two male leads falls to the wayside in favor of blood and guts, but at least it’s endlessly pleasurable to watch those blood and guts spray all over the confines of a Nazi-controlled experimentation laboratory. By the time it’s over, you too will feel like a grenade just went off from inside you. Just leave your brain at the door and come fully prepared knowing that there are no supersecret twists or random detours into J.J Abrams Cloverfield tie-ins (damn, not everything the man does has to be tied to that franchise. Pretty soon people will begin thinking Rey from Star Wars is related to the Cloverfield monster). Overlord is its own gloriously violent, stomach-churning, overly ambitious, Nazi horror story.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com