'Overlord' Review: War Is Hell

The 'Saving Private Ryan' boys take a tour through Herbert West's laboratory.

Overlord

There really aren’t nearly enough horror movies set during the carnage, mayhem, and inhumanity of World War II, and there are even fewer good ones. Outpost (2008), The Devil’s Rock (2011), Frankenstein’s Army (2013)… it’s a short list. Fans of the sub-genre will be happy to know, though, that not only has a new one arrived, but that Overlord is also one of the very best.

The Allies are mere hours away from storming the beaches of Normandy, and a secret mission is underway to ensure the invasion is a success. Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) drops behind enemy lines  alongside his newly assigned squad of soldiers with a single goal — blow up a secret radio tower to help clear the skies for Allied air support. Anti-aircraft fire leaves the squad down a few men, but the survivors gather their wits and explosives and head to the small French village that’s home to their target. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is the freshest face among them, and as this is his first mission he’s also the most disgusted by the violence heading their way. They find an ally in a young local named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), but a grim and grisly discovery jeopardizes the mission in unexpected ways.

The damn Nazis are resurrecting the dead.

Overlord is a genre blast that blends elements as diverse as Saving Private Ryan and Re-Animator into a big, gloriously proud B-movie. The WWII action is intense and exciting, the mutated zombie action is bloody and outrageous, and the combination of the two is crafted with an eye towards fun thrills.

Director Julius Avery shows off his bonafides early as the plane is destroyed by AA fire forcing survivors to leap madly into the air, and it’s as harrowing a sequence as you’re likely to find in an action/horror film. The energetic and tense pacing continues through scraps with enemy soldiers, and shifts back into overdrive once our heroes start crossing paths with undead Nazis and bloodthirsty human experiments. Landscape shifts move us through the sky, a forest, a town, and some labyrinthine tunnels beneath an old church, and while the Americans find little time to relax viewers are in the same proverbial boat.

The introduction to the squad continues once the lucky ones find each other on the ground below, and while the script (by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith) uses familiar shorthand with the soldiers it works to make each of them unique and appealing. Enough time is spent with them to make viewers care once the Nazi shit starts hitting the Nazi fan, and the unlikely “live or die” outcomes keeps things from being wholly predictable through to the end. Early talk of the film being an entry in producer J.J. AbramsCloverfield extended universe thankfully never come to fruition here, but there’s a whole lot of the war left after the end credits roll meaning a follow-up wouldn’t be out of the question. It would be an easy franchise to get behind too as its genre pieces are fit together extremely well. While teases of something supernatural rear their head the film’s focus in the first half is the good fight against a very human evil, and by the time the truth arrives we’re already invested.

Russell reminds throughout of his father with his affable combination of charm, bemusement, and intensity, and he gives Ford an entertaining authority and grit. Newcomer Adepo takes the moral lead, though, as someone fighting to retain his humanity — sometimes quite literally — against the horrors of war. Pilou Asbaek gives a terrifically dark turn as the lead Nazi officer whose already evil core is amplified by sleazy interests in Chloe and monstrous ones in the name of scientific research. Some successful comic relief comes from John Magaro as a nervously wise-cracking soldier who begrudgingly takes a young boy under his wing.

Composer Jed Kurzel contributes a score that shifts from rousing to more atmospherically subdued, and cinematographers Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner capture the film’s shifting locales and energy with a smart eye. The temptation with a war film is a muted palette, but they find opportunities for bright colors — yes, usually in the form of bloody abuses of human flesh — which work to keep the film from ever feeling visually dull.

Overlord works damn well as an entertaining tale of WWII heroism interrupted by some gruesome shenanigans. Look elsewhere if historical accuracy is a necessity, but if you like your war stories with a slice of monster mayhem this B-movie gets an A-grade.

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