There has been a lot of hype around this film based around the idea of what it could be rather than the film it is. Given the involvement of JJ Abrams as a producer, there was a lot of speculation that this would be another film in the Cloverfield series, especially because of how secretive Abrams was with the previous two Cloverfield films. However, this has ended up not being the fourth Cloverfield film, but it is an awesome genre mashup.
The film focuses on a group of paratroopers on the eve of D-Day who are sent into Nazi occupied France to take down a radio tower on a church to ensure that the Allies have air support when they take the Normandy beaches. However, when the troops arrive at the village where the radio tower is, they find that the tower is only one part of the operation and that the Nazis are doing experiments on the villagers and dead from a serum they found below the church to create, in their words, thousand year soldiers for a thousand year reich, and it’s up to the soldiers to stop the Nazi experiments. Now it’s hard to review this film because there’s nothing much in terms of theme. Sure there are ideas about the horrors of Nazi experimentation and the horrors of war and how it changes people but those are really in the background. This is essentially a bigger budget Grindhouse film, Band of Brothers meets Re-Animator and on that level, this is a success. This is a gorey, nasty film but that’s exactly the kind of film I wanted and it is a great, intense time at the cinema, even if the second act goes on a bit too long before the horror elements come in.
The cast is what really makes this work. Films like this live or die on the character dynamics and they work well here. Jovan Adepo is great as Boyce, effectively showing just how scared he is right from the start and how his nature doesn’t fit with the world of war at first, not even being willing to kill a mouse. As he experiences the horrors of war first hand, we see him get more traumatised and hardened, and the growing psychological damage it will do to him. Wyatt Russell, who is really showing himself to be a true successor to his dad, is great as Ford, the commanding officer, showing a more stoic attitude that lets you know just through his body language how much damage has been done to him by war and how far he is willing to go to defeat the Nazis, even going to their level in terms of torture at one point. There’s good supporting work from Iain DeCaestecker, John Magaro, Jacob Anderson and Dominic Applewhite as other soldiers, playing fairly arch characters, but ones that work in the context of the film, whilst Bokeem Woodbine gives a memorable appearance in a small role. Outside of the soldiers, Mathilde Olivier makes a strong impression as Chloe, a villager living near the church who helps the soldiers, providing them shelter and joining their raid on the church and the lab at the end, showing a good feel for action and Pilou Asbæk is clearly having a lot of fun, hamming it up as the Nazi commander.
The technical side of the film is very impressive. Julius Avery has a great eye throughout the film and, alongside DP’s Laurie Rose (who’s been the DP for all of Ben Wheatley’s films and shows himself to work wonders with a bigger budget here and will become more in demand between this, Stan and Ollie and Pet Sematary) and Fabian Wagner creates a strong atmosphere in the film. This is especially seen in the opening drop scene, which is one of the most intense pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen this year and really makes you understand the fear of the paratroopers, and the final raid on the lab which shows both the bad odds of the soldiers and how chaotic the whole thing is through effective use of long takes. The monster effects and the gore meanwhile are effectively nasty and brutal, really making the horror elements of the film work and really earning the 18 rating.
Overall, Overlord is not a complicated film but sometimes that’s fine. I wanted to see a gore fest involving US soldiers fighting Nazi monsters and that’s exactly what I got. Sometimes just a well executed version of a simple idea is all you need.
My Rating: 4/5