A convoy of American war ships and transport planes are traveling on the sea and through the sky with Germany in its sights. It’s the night before D-Day, a billowing cloud of smoke erupts with explosions that illuminate the sky as combat planes fad into the abyss of artillery clouds. A group of soldiers, fresh out of boot camp, nervously wait for their call to parachute into battle. In a blink, bullets riddle the airplane and chaos overtakes the company. The adrenaline fueled, absolutely terrifying, chaos of war.
Director Julius Avery and writing team Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith introduce their crossover genre film “Overlord” with an emphasis on real life atrocities and the terror of combat. However, the team also isn’t too concerned with making a full-blown war film but rather focus their attention on crafting a fright fest. “Overlord” utilizes many of the awful aspects of war to make its point about monsters; the captivity, the torture, and the maniacal control make perfect sense when crossing paths with horror.
Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and Ford (Wyatt Russell) are two paratroopers who survive the fall to earth after their plane is destroyed over the combat zone. Their mission is to take down a Nazi controlled radio tower that sits atop a hill outside a nearby village. Boyce, trying to connect with other members of his platoon, gets forced into the radio tower station which is completely occupied by Nazi soldiers. Boyce discovers a laboratory beneath the tower where a scientist is conducting terrifying experiments on locals from the village and captured soldiers.
“Overlord”, amidst some nasty bits of human experimentation, torture, and assault, is operating to induce the same sensation one might feel while playing an intense round of team deathmatch in a multiplayer first-person video game. And, unfortunately, just like the sporadic and fleeting nature of video game shooters, the thrill is short lived. That’s the major issue with “Overlord”, it seldom commits towards embracing the frenetic and frightening pace it achieves in very small doses, specifically the first and final 15 minutes of the film which are fantastic. It lingers in moments of needless exposition and meaningless side missions, these moments undercut the thrill achieved in the introduction and take away from the building excitement of entering a madhouse of horror.
However, when the film unleashes into action sequences, with all of its monster mayhem and breakneck brutality, the film is an absolute crowd pleaser. The intensity of the terror, when it pushes into this realm, is such a good time. It feels like your favorite video game with the gun fights, the exploration and finding of clues inside different environments, and the stalking through dingy tunnels and darkened hiding places. While this technique doesn’t allow for the best character development, there are still a few highlighted performances specifically from lead Jovan Adepo who controls the balance of showing humanity versus turning into the monsters he is fighting. Also, Mathilde Ollivier, playing a French freedom fighter, does a nice job wielding a flame thrower and showing the soldiers she can fight just like them.
“Overlord” struggles in finding the path and tone it wants to take, combining the war and horror genre was the best choice here because neither story in this film was strong enough to exist on their own. Still, there are many genre film fans who will find the nearly 2-hour experience entertaining because of its commitment to punishing war violence and gory monsters.
Movie Score: 3/5