Updated: Feb 7, 2020
A group of American soldiers in World War 2 stumble across a dark Nazi secret in Overlord, a sci-fi/war thriller with horror elements. Genre combinations like this are a tricky thing. They need just the right mixture of history and science fiction. Lean too far in either direction and one side gets overwhelmed. Luckily, Overlord works more than it does not. The war material is actually quite compelling and the sci-fi stuff, while not fully explored, adds solid suspense to the final act. It is a pretty entertaining diversion, even if the story is not the most original.
The movie begins with a good sequence on a plane as a unit of soldiers prepares to drop into France. Their mission is to take down a church tower the Germans are using to pick off American troops. Only four men survive the drop and must figure out how to get past the forty enemy soldiers guarding the church. Little do they know those Nazis are up to something very insidious.
The secret, when it is revealed, is not all that interesting. However, director Julius Avery is pretty successful at sustaining tension. I did not care that much about the plot, but individual scenes held my attention. The lengthy middle portion, featuring the Americans hiding in a house across from the church, could have caused the movie to drag. It does not because Avery is able to keep the action moving swiftly even during dialogue scenes. That is where most of the story’s themes reside. Nearly everything moves the plot forward. Though it is not deep or thoughtful, it is exciting.
Something relatively common among war movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s is that most of the characters are barely developed stereotypes who viewers learn just enough about so we can tell them apart once they start their mission. The same is true here. There is the photographer, the sarcastic one, the reluctant soldier and the dedicated soldier. There is also the kind local trying to protect her family and the evil Nazi officer. These types work because Overlord does not rely on them. It sets them up so the audience is slightly more invested when horrible things start happening.
A lot of horrible things happen in this story. I would not, strictly speaking, call this a horror movie, but there are visuals in the final stretch that would definitely not be out of place in one. There is no restraint here. War is terrible enough. The characters experience awful things before the sci-fi kicks in. Then, when it does, there are some pretty explicit visuals that fit with the vaguely grindhouse style the majority of the production evokes. The special effects team did a good job.
One of the best things about Overlord (102 minutes without the end credits) is how thoroughly it understands exactly what it is. It is trashy, bloody and violent. Those excited by that description will probably have fun with it. I did. I knew I was watching something ridiculous but, for the length of its running time, I was reasonably entertained. Over the next couple of months I will be seeing a lot of classy, emotional, Oscar-worthy films. Sometimes it is refreshing to see a movie whose main intention is to make its audience say “that was really cool!” Even if it was only kind of cool.
3¼ out of 5
Jovan Adepo as Boyce
Wyatt Russell as Ford
John Magaro as Tibbet
Iain De Caestecker as Chase
Dominic Applewhite as Rosenfeld
Mathilde Ollivier as Chloe
Gianny Taufer as Paul
Pilou Asbæk as Wafner
Directed by Julius Avery
Screenplay by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith