I love when a film mixes genres. Even if the blending isn’t wholly successful, it’s always a blast to watch how a filmmaker attempts to make them come together by finding elements that are similar, lining them up, and then seeing how well they fit or clash in interesting ways. It doesn’t seem like much of a leap for writers Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith and director Julius Avery (2014’s Son of a Gun) to find similarities between the horrors of war and human horrors born of errant scientific experiments—like the kind that were rumored to have been attempted by Nazi scientists during World War II. And now you have an idea of the deviant blood that runs through the veins of Overlord, produced by J.J. Abrams, who has a knack for taking B-movie ideas and giving them a little boost with guidance and financing to help relatively new directors realize their twisted visions.
And make no mistake, Overlord is a twisted affair.
Opening on the brink of the D-Day invasion, the film beings with a spectacular sequence involving a group of American paratroopers who drop into German-occupied France during a blazing, chaotic firefight that leaves many of the men dead before they even hit the ground. Their mission is to take out a radio tower that is transmitting a signal that blocks communication for the region. In order for the invasion to happen on schedule, these men have to break into a heavily guarded church and take out that tower, which is a fantastic premise to start with, especially with the great built-in countdown clock. The mission is led by hard-nosed Corp. Ford (Wyatt Russell) but we see much of the action through the eyes of Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the group’s only African-American member, which doesn’t sit well with many, even under the circumstances where one would assume that every friendly face helps their odds of a successful mission.
The few remaining soldiers, including Tibbet (John Magaro) and Chase (Iain De Caestecker, of “Agents of SHIELD”), get to the church’s surrounding village and are given a place to hide and regroup by a French woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier). Boyce is sent to do recon, and he stumbles upon what appears to be rooms under the church where freakish experiments are taking place. He manages to get out again with a syringe filled with a mystery formula and one of his fellow soldiers who is being held captive. And it’s at this point that things go from mysterious and tense to grotesque and horrifying, in most of the right ways.
Overlord feels like it contains pieces from other films—everything from Re-Animator to Raiders of the Lost Ark—but it combines them in fantastic and frantic ways that kept me alternating between curious and frightened. In full action-hero mode, I don’t think Russell has ever reminded me more of his father Kurt than he does in this movie. He’s cold hearted and never hesitates to kill someone if it means not having to deal with them later. He has an epic hand-to-hand fight (with both hands enhanced by the aforementioned formula) with a Nazi commander named Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) (whose character gets rather rapey with Chloe early on, because we need reminding in 2018 that Nazis are the worst).
The experiments are downright evil, both in their nature and source, and before long things are looking bad for the Americans in their ultimate quest to blow up the radio-jamming device. Fair warning: the action, violence and other-worldly gore in Overlord is no joke. Director Avery is determined to create a horror/war movie that is unforgettable to lovers of both genres, and I think he makes it work. Parts of the movie are over-the-top and ridiculous, but that’s the nature of the beast, and the actors are interesting and game enough to pull it off, especially Russell and Adepo. Not a film for everyone (although I’m guessing you know if it’s for you), Overlord is pure chaotic, bloody bliss.
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