OVERLORD Review: Good Old-Fashioned Nazi-Killin'

Overlord poster.jpg

Promising The Dirty Dozen-meets-Wolfenstein, Overlord takes its B-level premise remarkably seriously. Not too seriously, but just enough. It would be easy for a filmmaker in today’s market to indulge in winking absurdity to play hip with its audience, but aside from a delightfully old-fashioned title card up front suggesting a Robert Rodriguez-esque pastiche, the film plays itself incredibly straight even after the hook lands. Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith’s script remains beholden to solid nuts and bolts storytelling rather than letting the horror elements careen out of control for just for its own sake.

Those knowing nothing about Overlord may be surprised at the suggestion of a horror twist, especially watching the generic World War II action drama of the first act unfold. We get a brief introduction to a unit of paratroopers about to be airdropped into France in the hours preceding D-Day. An explosion of artillery obliterating the fuselage and a hasty descent to the ground later - shot in a dizzying single-take - and we reconvene with our surviving cast of heroes. The stock archetypes are all here: the timid but good-hearted Boyce (Jovan Adepo), the loud and abrasive New Yorker Tibbet (John Magaro), the bumbling noncombatant Chase (Iain De Caestecker), and the brooding, intense leader Ford (Wyatt Russell). All are familiar, but never shallow or reduced to caricature. Once they gather their bearings, the unit proceeds with their mission: the destruction of a Nazi radio tower built on top of a church. A resident of the occupied village, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), comes to their aid in the operation.

The quintessential village depicted is recognizable to any familiar with WWII cinema, with its cobblestone streets and church on the hill. Patrolled by Nazi soldiers and a particularly sadistic commander (Pilou Asbæk), who through a forced arrangement has spared Chloe from being spirited away to the church, the emptiness of the town suggests something more than a mere occupation going on here. But the soldiers would never be prepared for what Boyce finds in the bunker up on the hill.

Boyce’s accidental journey into the base turns the film over to the more fantastical breed of Nazi crimes in the form of full on science-lab body horror. Reanimated corpses, deformed monsters, and super-soldiers are the macabre name of the game here. As if Nazis weren’t already bad enough as they were, the parade of grotesques comprising this sequence more than justify the wholesale slaughter to come.

Julius Avery

Jovan Adepo
Wyatt Russell
Pilou Asbæk
Mathilde Ollivier
John Magaro
Iain De Caestecker

Screenplay by
Billy Ray and
Mark L. Smith

While Overlord dips its feet into exploitation territory, the film keeps its head about it, not allowing the admittedly fun schlock elements to dominate the tone and progression of the story. The characters are ripe enough that we care that they succeed in their mission and survive, and Pilou Asbæk makes for a wonderfully snarling villain. Newcomer Julius Avery’s directions keeps the whole film grounded in reality even as the stakes mount and the violence and gore more and more ridiculous. Overlord is not a particularly ambitious film, its simple story only complicated by the one gruesome twist. It does not make any overtly meaningful statements beyond “Nazis are bad and they should all die horribly.” As a vehicle for depicting those grisly demises, the film is more than satisfactory.

Overlord is currently playing in theaters everywhere.