In the build-up to D-Day, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) believe they’re the only survivors of an ill-fated paratrooper mission behind enemy lines to knock out a radar jamming post so the Allies can provide air support for the beach landings. They eventually meet up with a few more survivors of their platoon and make their way to the village where the occupying German forces have fortified the church. They are sheltered by Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), one of the villagers, and learn from her that the Nazis have been taking and executing ‘volunteers’ from the village for sinister experiments.
Much less of an out-and-out horror film than the trailers would suggest, “Overlord” is, in fact, a brutal and tense World War II action adventure which belatedly takes a horror turn in its final act.
As stylish as it is, it doesn’t stray very far from the ‘big book of war movie tropes’ as rewritten by Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and much of its sound and fury war-is-Hell big moments have already appeared in the marketing. Once the survivors of the doomed paratroop regiment set foot on French soil, however, the film finds a tension in delaying the audience’s gratification for WW2-Zs in favour of the slow burn infiltration and hiding from the German patrols. It may feel like a frustrating tease to make you wait that long but it’s tellingly 2018 for the movie to have to spend time clearly establishing that the Nazis are unambiguously bad. There are no fine people on the occupying side here.
The story finally bares his teeth during an accidental infiltration of the Nazi base where we’re finally exposed to the grisly experiments being conducted: a search for a super-soldier serum which thus far has only been tested on the dead, for whom it has surprisingly revenant powers. There are some particularly good moments of body horror scattered about but in trying to keep one foot in the ‘gritty war drama’ camp while planting the other firmly in “Wolfenstein”-territory, it never quite commits to one or the other. The scale and ambition of the Nazi’s zombie plans feel under-explored and underdeveloped and there are times when the narrative is annoyingly inconsistent in its portrayal of the difficulty (or lack thereof) of attacking and/ or infiltrating the Nazi base. It’s also saddled with a gratingly loud and over-excited score which clumsily tips you off to every impending scare or reveal, undermining much of the good work being done on screen by the cast and camera work. The performances are generally good, if a little clichéd and while the effects are quite impressive, there are several moments where the prosthetics fail to live up to the CGI used in previous scenes.
“Overlord” ultimately underwhelms and at 110 minutes is a little over-long and a lot over-loud but as a stylish, popcorn-selling B-movie it nevertheless accomplishes its mission, even if it turns out that mission is to be a bloody, brutal body horror reimagining of “Captain America: The First Avenger” where the Nazis developed a super soldier serum first.