The mix of war movies and horror movies have always been a natural combination, since they’re both manage to examine the dark sides of combat and humanity. It’s just a shame that there haven’t been many movies of the sub-genre that have been worth watching. Thankfully, while “Overlord” isn’t a complete masterpiece, it manages to come out in the end as a sleek and very clever amalgam of horror, fantasy, and war oriented action. It might also sweeten the pot that Avery’s horror war hybrid feels like a spiritual prequel to “Re-Animator.” Director Julius Avery approaches the idea of a horror movie set during World War II with great right balance of both genres, allowing “Overlord” to be a character piece first and then delve right in to the horrendous grue and human ugliness.
With only D-Day only mere hours away, a company of American paratroopers drop in to Nazi occupied France on a top secret mission to seek out and destroy a radio transmitter atop a fortified church. When the drop goes awry, a few soldiers remain, including soldier Boyce, who manages to penetrate the church by sheer chance. There he learns of a sinister and horrific plan that the Nazis are concocting for the sake of dominating the world. Boyce retreats to the town where the rest of his company has sought shelter and safety in the home of a French villager. When they decide to infiltrate the Nazi church and explore the lab, they realize the Nazis have more in store for their enemies beside a radio transmitter, and they have to stop it before its fully realized, giving them the upper hand once and for all.
Fans of EC Comics might especially love what Avery unfolds for the audience, as “Overlord” watches like a cinematic version of an issue of “Weird Science-Fantasy.” Although Avery doesn’t submit to style, “Overlord” treats its premise with a sharp script by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith along with great tension that helps the film drip with pure dread. “Overlord” surprisingly takes its time dipping in to the horror, as it focuses on the premise that keeps our soldiers moving through enemy territory first and foremost. That serves as something of a contradiction though, as there’s a ton of reasoning for the soldiers to be where they are, and in their current situation. But once we delve in to the twist with Boyce, there isn’t a ton of explanation as to what we’re seeing. The whys and the hows are almost completely ambiguous with much of the enemy’s sinister weapon being left to us to decipher.
What it means for the Nazis and how it works is almost fully explained, as Avery has a good time exemplifying its twisted functions and how the Nazis just might value such an aspect. “Overlord” could easily fall in to the trappings of a routine war movie, but works hard and well at side stepping a lot of the goofy tropes. The characters are all genuinely engaging and interesting and the script allows us to empathize with them and their overall goal for making it to the church. I was very much taken by the soldiers’ hiding out in a local villagers’ (Mathilde Ollivier) farm house, evading Nazis, and where it all leads up to. Meanwhile there are a slew of strong turns by Wyatt Russell, John Margaro, and Jovan Adepo, whose turn as this outcast thrust in to an extraordinary situation is tense.
I also loved Pilou Asbæk, who has a great time as the film’s slimy villain. “Overlord” is briskly paced, but does slow down in the mid-way mark with a lot of focus on finding out what the secret formula is, all for us to leave relatively empty handed. There’s also no mention on if the Nazis have other laboratories in other parts of Europe, or if they’ve unleashed some of their hideous monsters. While a big gory scene in an attic is an absolutely disturbing tribute to “The Thing,” there’s almost zero rationale for why Boyce would resort to desperate measures, in the first place. While it’s not a part of the whole cryptic puzzle canon from JJ Abrams and Robot, “Overlord” is an entertaining genre entry, and a top drawer creature feature.