‘I’ ON CULTURE
I found Overlord to be a strange, fascinating genre-bender of a film. It starts out as a war movie and turns into a horror gore fest. It is one of those B movies that moves up to a B+ rating, maybe even an A-. That is due to really good directing and an excellent cast.
The action takes place in the hours before D-Day in France. A group of American soldiers is tasked with parachuting in and destroying an antenna for a radio blocking facility in a small French town. Of course, it is located on top of a church. The opening scenes are horribly violent as the plane carrying the troops faces anti-aircraft fire and crashes. Only a small number of troops get out to carry out the attack. The lead protagonist is Boyce (Jovan Adepo) who serves under Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), only slightly older but an explosives expert. Sharpshooter Tibbet (John Magaro) keeps his motormouth running, talking constantly about how things are working well and how happy he’ll be when the war is over. They infiltrate the small town, meeting local Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who seems the only person who is not completely terrified.
Townspeople are disappearing, picked up by the Nazis, never to be seen again. The leader of these bad guys is Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), who really gets off on grabbing people. Chloe and her brother have survived because Wafner is using her for sex. She doesn’t like it and is ready to join the mission. Much of the middle of the movie is watching the American soldiers discovering that there is actually something more disgusting than the Nazis. They go through places filled with body parts that beg them for death, body bags that are moving. What is really worse than Nazis? How about Nazi zombies?
Eventually, of course, the outnumbered Americans wind up fighting the zombies, who are frightening, but blow up in interesting ways. Hint: this is not a film for impressionable kids or even adults who are not into gore.
All of this fits well into the traditional B movie horror genre. But this film is really well done. It’s as if we had Saving Private Ryan as a horror flick. That is how good the quality under director Julius Avery turns out. While the plot is a bit weak, he holds our attention throughout.
Adepo is an exceptional leading man. He holds the film together as the scared, new to real combat soldier, who winds up as the leader. Historical purists note that he is black, and blacks were discriminated against at the time, their roles generally limited. Avery, instead of playing all sorts of diversity games, when asked why he put a black soldier in a situation that could not have existed, simply noted that there were no real Nazi zombies either. The choice of Adepo was excellent. In our modern, diverse world, I am certain few in the audience even thought about the history. It also works well for what is obviously an alternative history.
Russell was also good. While he did not demonstrate the moral purity of Adepo, he really hit the mark with his world-weariness. I also liked Ollivier. In most movies of this type, the woman winds up being mainly an accessory. Ollivier turned Chloe into a very real, interesting person. Asbaek has a good reputation as a villain with twists and turns in his personality (see Game of Thrones for the past couple of seasons) and does the same here.
Producer J.J. Abrams likes to mix genres, and when it is done really well, we have some great entertainment. The edge of your seat feeling comes in early. The good acting, the photography and a host of other things keeps this movie really tight and flowing. We don’t get the dip in attention that often attends horror films.
Of course, if you do not like gore, this is one to avoid. But this is one of those “little engine that could” films. I do not like the horror genre, but this one really works.