Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Julius Avery
Stars: Wyatt Russell, Bokeem Woodbine, Jovan Adepo, John Magaro, Jacob Anderson, Pilou Asbaek, Mathilde Olivier, Iain DeCaestecker, Gianny Taufer, Erich Redman, Dominic Applewhite.
Overlord follows a platoon of US soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division who parachute into occupied France on the eve of the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from the Nazi tyranny. Their mission is to infiltrate a small French village and destroy a radio transmitter located in the steeple of a church. The success of the D-Day landing rests with them pulling off their mission impossible. But what starts out as a straight forward WWII action movie quickly morphs into something else as it combines the usual war time men-on-a-mission tropes with mad scientists, zombies and a touch of gory body horror, courtesy of some evil Nazi experiments.
The team is led by the veteran hard-bitten sergeant Benson (Bokeem Woodbine, from Fargo, etc), and consists of nice guy rookie Boyce (Jovan Adepo, who played Denzel Washington’s son in Fences), quick tempered explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt), loud mouthed sniper Tibbett (John Magaro, from The Big Short, etc), photojournalist Chase (Iain DeCaestecker, from Agents of SHIELD, etc) and Dawson (Jacob Anderson, from Game Of Thrones, etc). When Benson is killed in a shootout with a Nazi patrol, Ford assumes charge of the mission. The soldiers are offered sanctuary in the home of plucky Frenchwoman Chloe (Mathilde Olivier) and her younger brother Paul (Gianny Taufer), and her elderly sick aunt who remains hidden behind a closed door.
But the soldiers soon discover that villagers are being subject to horrific experiments conducted by Nazi scientist Dr Schmidt (Erich Redman) in a secret laboratory underneath the church. Schmidt is trying to create a super soldier, an indestructible warrior that could turn the course of the war. Boyce stumbles upon the laboratory and decides that the need to destroy the laboratory is of great importance.
Produced by J J Abrams, Overlord is not part of the filmmaker’s Cloverfield universe but rather a stand-alone film. Set on the eve of D-Day this WWII movie revels in the B-grade grindhouse aesthetic of the screenplay from Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, etc) and Mark L Smith (the Oscar winning The Revenant, etc). Australian director Julius Avery (the 2014 crime thriller Son Of A Gun, etc) handles the material with confidence and a sense of abandon and brings a slightly irreverent touch to the horror elements that will recall many schlock horror films from the 80s. He dishes up some gruesome horror, gratuitous gore, grisly deaths and a satisfyingly high body count. Avery proves himself an adept director of muscular action sequences. The spectacular opening sequence is reminiscent of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, and this gritty sequence immerses us in the intensity and brutal realities of war and the loss of life. His reliance on practical effects where possible is also somewhat refreshing in this age of digital effects.
The characters are all well-drawn and Avery has assembled a strong cast of largely unknown actors to bring them to life. Russell is good as the gruff and battle-hardened Ford, and he seems to be channelling his father’s heroics from films like Escape From New York, etc. Adepo elicits sympathy for his character, while Magaro brings some welcome touches of smart-arse humour to the material. Olivier is strong as Chloe. Pilou Asbaek (from Ghost In The Shell, etc) is particularly memorable as the despicable Nazi boss Captain Wafner.
Overlord has been nicely shot by cinematographers Laurie Rose (Free Fire, etc) and German Fabian Wagner (Justice League, etc) who deliberately use a variety of different angles to unsettle the audience, particularly during the opening scene. There is also some great production design from Jon Henson (Hunter Killer, etc) the creates the chilling interiors for the underground laboratory as well as the claustrophobic confines of Chloe’s house. There is some great sound design, and Jed Kurzel’s atmospheric score adds to the tension and perfectly suits the tone of the material.