Overlord may not be part of the Cloverfield universe, but it is the first R-rated film from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot studio, and it embraces that mature rating. This part-war, part-horror movie doesn’t shy away from the gory reality of combat, combining World War II action with monster movie moments for a thrilling ride that rarely lets up. With likable heroes and despicable villains, Overlord is a trip into Nazi-occupied France that’s worth taking.
Our heroes are an archetypal squad. Protagonist Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is your everyman soldier, conscripted into the army but averse to violence. With him are the jokester Tibbet (John Magaro) and the somewhat wimpy war photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker). Leading them all is the uncompromising Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell). There’s a likeable quality to gravitate toward in each member of the squad, whether it’s Boyce’s nobility or Tibbet’s wisecracks.
The squad also finds a lone ally during their mission. Just before reaching the French village that houses the radio tower, they happen upon Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who lives there with her aunt and little brother. Throughout the film, Chloe does what she must to keep herself and her family safe, and you get the sense that she would have eventually taken on the Nazis occupying her village herself if the squad hadn’t shown up. Unfortunately, she’s the only female character in the entire film, save for a throwaway extra or two. While that may be accurate for the setting and scenario in which these soldiers find themselves, it’s still slightly disappointing.
Their goal is simple: Take out a radio tower so that air support can be called in for the invasion of Normandy. If they fail, D-Day doesn’t happen. Overlord immediately sets high stakes and shows off its hyperviolent tendencies–within minutes, dozens of soldiers are severely injured or dead, and we’re treated to a GoPro-style shot of Boyce air-dropping from the plane and plunging into the water below. It’s the first of many dynamic shots and longer takes, which are often punctuated by flash frames of blood and gore.
Overlord’s sound design is equally powerful, with loud explosions, haunting moans, and terrifying screams. You might not always see the horrible act happening behind a closed door, but the sounds from the other side help paint you a grisly mental picture. As for what you can see, the movie is covered in drab grays, greens, and browns, punctuated by fiery reds from blood, fire, and explosions. Crimson severed limbs and bloody explosions stand out strongly against such a background.
Their chief opponent is Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), a Nazi officer who exudes evil. His scenes are characterized by both violence and aggressive sexual acts, all of which make him very hateable, very quickly. Wafner is a bad guy you want to see fall, and the climactic fight with him is akin to a Marvel villain fight. But the same can’t be said for the other key antagonist, The Doctor. This Nazi scientist is responsible for a series of horrible experiments happening in the village, but aside from a few appearances where he watches some bodies get torched or injects a patient with serum, he has little to do. Despite being the creator of the movie’s monsters, he has a disappointing presence in the film.
The monsters themselves are a different story. The Nazis’ goal is to create unkillable super soldiers, and their successful test subjects rise despite grievous injury after grievous injury. Even the traditional “shoot the zombie in the head” method isn’t a valid option. These aren’t Walking Dead shamblers, nor are they 28 Days Later rage machines: These super soldiers are walking, thinking tanks, a refreshing take on the zombie trope. They aren’t seen as often in the film as you’d expect, but their less frequent appearances help to keep their superhuman abilities all the more mysterious. Still, pure horror junkies may be expecting to see them maul more victims than they actually do. Fortunately, some jump scares and tense long takes help keep parts of Overlord feeling like horror even when there isn’t a monster on the screen.
Despite mixing the military with horror, Overlord is a war movie at its core. While it picks off its cast like an 80s slasher flick, it doesn’t shy away from gun violence. There’s an unrelenting sense of danger, of nearly getting caught, hanging over the whole film. The Nazis killed a lot of people, and our heroes are aiming to avoid the same fate. It’s fun to watch the team design and carry out a battle plan, whether it involves silently hiding in an attic, tricking Nazis to get inside a compound, or simply opening fire in the streets.
These exploits transform Boyce, and his character arc is fun to watch; he goes from being something of a pacifist to a trigger-pulling hero. His kills are few in number, but they are done in service of helping others. As a person of color, Boyce’s role as the protagonist is also noteworthy given the historical setting. Boyce and Chloe have great chemistry, while Boyce’s clashes with Ford are the movie’s strongest scenes, strengthening both their character arcs. While the whole squad, Chloe included, work well together, Jovan and Russell stand out.
Overlord is a journey, both for the characters and the viewer. What starts as a simple airdrop becomes a tale of survival in a lab meant for horrifying experiments. It’s a journey worth taking. The squad members are charming in their own ways, and the intensity doesn’t let up. Chloe stands strong despite being the movie’s only key woman, and The Doctor simply could have used more screen time. Despite some missteps, Overlord marries a war film to horror tropes with strong success.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Edge-of-your-seat wartime action||…but she’s basically the only one|
|Enjoyable character arcs for the whole squad||The Doctor is underused|
|Wafner is a strong villain|
|Chloe is a strong female character…|