War-horror films are odd as they are rare. While it seems like a novel concept, placing fantastical horror elements into a realistic horror environment, like a war zone, they are rarely executed by big budget studios. The only studios that seem to pull this off are low-budget in nature. They are usually low quality, with awful scripts and even worse visual effects. They might even play it off as a “parody,” caked in layers of cheap irony and annoyingly self-referential dialogue. “Overlord,” however, subverts all this by providing satisfying action, unforgettable scares and shockingly rich character development.
“Overlord” tells the story of a small team of paratroopers in World War II landing in a Nazi-Occupied French village with the mission to destroy its radio tower before D-Day begins. However, the group uncovers that beneath the town’s chapel. There lies an ancient, powerful pit that can reanimate the dead and the Nazis are using it to breed undead super-soldiers to ensure that their reign lasts a thousand years. It’s now up to the team to not only to destroy the radio tower and ensure the success of D-Day, but to also destroy the pit and stop the Nazis from achieving immortality.
From the award winning film “Fences,” Jovan Adepo plays Private Ed Boyce, a mild-mannered private who initially stumbles upon the secret Nazi lab. Wyatt Russell stars as Corporal Ford, the battle hardened corporal who is leading the mission and wants to accomplish it no matter the cost. Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker and Dominic Applewhite star in supporting roles; Ollivier is Chole, a French villager whose family has been brutalized by Nazis. Magaro, De Caestecker and Applewhite are fellow paratroopers starring as Tibbet, Chase and Rosenfeld. Last but not least, we have Pilou Asbæk from Game of Thrones fame as Captain Wafner, the Nazi head of the experiments who is as terrifying as he is evil.
Despite the pulpy, cartoonish nature of the story, the movie never treats itself as a joke. Nearly every aspect of the film is played for horror, ranging from the fictitious, undead super-soldiers to the realistic and gory brutalities of war. The zombies, nightmarish ghouls coated in dead tissue and rotten scars, are utterly disturbing. They are almost invulnerable and they flail around wildly, tearing through stone walls and flesh with ease. As for the more realistic aspects, the opening scene consists of our heroes dropping from a plane on the night before D-Day. We get to see the sheer terror and panic from the paratroopers, being trapped on a plane as it’s being torn to shreds by bullets and flak. Soldiers dropped dead in clouds of blood and gore as the plane erupted into a hellish ball of fire.
At the same time however, the movie isn’t straight-faced and grim. There’s soft, tender moments between Boyce and Chloe, talking about their childhoods and life before the war. Adepo and Ollivier provided subdued performances that really sell their characters. Magaro provides the comedic relief by being a snarky, wise-cracking New Yorker and fight scenes featuring Captain Wafner juiced up on the zombie super-serum is something that needs to be seen. Asbæk is having the time of his life throwing around glorious, schlocky one liners. His transformation from a Hans Landa clone to a Saturday morning cartoon villain is amazing to watch.
Speaking of character growth, the movie is great in that respect. Boyce goes from a borderline pacifist rookie into a hardened soldier fully capable of killing zombies, Nazis and Nazi-zombies. Notably, he doesn’t become bitter or cynical, but he keeps his humanity and becomes more determined. Ford starts out as a brutal, nearly unsympathetic veteran who responds to every problem with a chilling amount of violence, before letting his humanity shine through near the end and becoming a true hero.
There’s also a great little arc with Tibbit, who treats Chole’s kid brother, Paul, as more of a hazard if anything, before warming up to the kid and even saving his life when he wanders into a firefight. While the other characters might not have arcs that aren’t as fleshed out, their characters were solid to begin with, and the actors still give great performances.
One of the characters who embodies this is Chole, a determined French villager willing to protect her brother at all costs. She even manages to kill one of the zombies in the end to save him. Bokeem Woodbine also stars in the film as the the overly zealous Sergeant Eldson. He steals the show in the first scene with his snappy, jovial and gung-ho attitude, gleefully delivering one-liners as the plane is torn to shreds.
There are few complaints when it comes to “Overlord.” The film could have played with body horror more and focused on developing a tenser atmosphere, and the cinematography wasn’t amazing either. There were only two really impressive shots at the beginning and ending of the film, but outside of that, “Overlord” was shot averagely; it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t mind blowing.
Despite all that, “Overlord” is a delight to watch. Obviously it isn’t going to appeal to all audiences, but if you want a unique horror film with a solid concept, execution and surprising moments of depth, then give “Overlord” a chance. It’s worth the admission price and then some.