Christmas music can already be heard on the radio and stores are lined with garland and holiday lights, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to have a horrific good time at the movie theater. Certain types of films play during specific times of the year. Award contenders are typically dropped between November and December, big blockbusters during the summer, and animated films during the late winter/early spring months, when kids are coming from or going on vacation.
Horror movies on the other hand are a year-round event. They are just as comfortable in January as they are in June or September. The crowds who frequent horror movies, such as myself, are anxious to get any new content for their genre that they can add to a future marathon. They are also a less critical group and, up until a few years ago, have been and continue to be happy if the film offers the appropriate amount of scares, gore, or psychological trauma.
Lately, our expectations have been raised. Acclaimed directors like James Wan, Fede Alvarez, and Mike Flanagan have shown us that a good horror film doesn’t have to be a mess of schlock and ear-splitting nonsense. It can have a compelling story, developed characters, and good cinematography. There will always be a place for B-movie fun, but when you give it A-level execution our hearts will light up every time. Which is how I felt watching Overlord.
In Overlord, directed by Julius Avery, a band of American soldiers are flying into France the night before D-Day in 1944. Their mission is to knock out a radio tower so the Army can provide air support for the troops on the ground. When the mission goes sideways, the remaining soldiers, led by Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), set out for the village housing the tower.
Ford is an explosives expert and has a war-weary look about him. Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is a translator with a big heart and a fearless spirit. Tibbet (John Magaro) is a wise-cracking, New York type who doesn’t like their odds. Chase (Iain De Caestecker) is a photographer sent to capture the action, but taking pictures is going to be on the bottom of his to-do list. Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite) knows his way around firearms and can be counted on when called upon.
On their way to the village, the soldiers meet Chloe(Mathilde Ollivier), a French woman who agrees to help them. She despises Nazis. The village is overrun by them and making it to the church where the tower resides will be no easy feat. Making things worse is the discovery of a secret operation, run by a ruthless Nazi officer named Wafner, that is killing the villagers. Ford, Boyce, and the others have to contend with this dangerous hurdle before they can even hope to complete their mission. Time is running out and the boats are approaching Normandy. The entire war may hang in the balance.
Having avoided any trailers, I went into this film with only a small amount of detail. I knew this was no run-of-the-mill World War II film with casualties and sweeping landscapes. I also knew that something nefarious and monstrous was lurking in the village church. How pleasantly surprised I was to find out how fun this movie is. The opening scene is like an exciting Mission Impossible movie. Once the characters are established, I’m immediately invested in their story.
War is hell and deadly serious, but thankfully this movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has tense moments, but funny and exciting ones too. It also has a lot of heart and at times reminded me of moments in Saving Private Ryan, but it’s more Inglorious Basterds than anything else. I’d say it’s a modern-day grindhouse movie in all the best ways. It has the right amount of one-liners without going too cheesy, the outrageous scenes of violence that are still appropriate in the context of the story, and the personalities of the characters are only slightly melodramatic when it matters. Sometimes it’s nice to get a film set during wartime that isn’t morose and melancholy. The protagonists are cautiously optimistic and dangerously over-confident; but when the odds are stacked against you that’s the attitude you need to take.
The main character in this movie is Boyce. You experience most of this movie from his point of view. Probably because he stumbles into the most situations by accident. Fortunately those accidents help his team out and give the audience enough exposition to move the story along without confusing us. He is actually a very likable character and his chemistry with Chloe and his fellow soldiers is where the heart of this film comes in. I especially like one small moment involving Boyce and Chloe’s son.
Corporal Ford is resourceful and also can be aggressive when tensions rise. He is well played by Wyatt Russell. Although when he yells at one of his fellow soldiers, all I could hear was Kurt Russell. In fact I’m not convinced they didn’t write his character for a Kurt Russell type and thought maybe we should just get his son. In any event the character is a necessity in a movie like this. Most of the best one-liners come from him and his brand of bravado is just what this team needs to get the job done. He just needs to keep his desire for vengeance in check.
The pacing of this film is excellent. There is no lull and it doesn’t go so fast that you can’t get into it. It’s under two hours and that’s the right amount of time for this kind of movie. I give credit to the editing, but I think director Julius Avery deserves some praise as well. The way certain scenes are framed and executed increases the excitement and puts you right in the middle of the action.
If the chemistry and fun conversations among a bunch of Army men isn’t enough to peak your interest, then the other part of this movie might do the trick. It involves mad scientists and genetic testing, with varied results. I think this movie could have been perfect without any of that, but it wouldn’t have been unique. It sounds like a B-movie storyline, but it is executed so well that you go along with it. It is highly entertaining and works even better set during World War II on the eve of D-Day.
There are a several plot holes scattered throughout the movie, but you quickly forgive them for the sake of a fun story. Also this movie obviously isn’t going for historical accuracy so a few deviations from logic or reality are worth it to get us from A to B. With all that said, there is enough sincerity in the characters for you to become invested and the actual depravity of Nazis is well documented. You only need to sustain disbelief and not suspend it entirely.
Overlord is a gem of a horror film that is full of great characters, humor, and action to spare. I really enjoyed the entire cast, but I give special kudos to Wyatt Russell, Jovan Adepo, and John Magaro. When things are looking too dark, I relied on Tibbet to keep things upbeat or at least make us focus on what an ass he is sometimes. I also thought Mathilde Ollivier did a remarkable job and provided a great balance of courage and vulnerability with her character.
I don’t always pick up a war film more than once because the realistic subject matter can be difficult to relive again. It helps to have one that only uses history as a backdrop in order to entertain you with a fun adventure. I highly recommend Overlord for fans of fun war and/or horror films, but only if you can stomach a little gore. And let’s face it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoying seeing Nazis get what’s coming to them.
Synopsis: The story of a group of American soldiers behind enemy lines just before D-Day and the mysterious Nazi operation they uncover.
Director: Julius Avery
Writers: Billy Ray, Mark L. Smith
Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbaek, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Jacob Anderson, Dominic Applewhite, Bokeem Woodbine
Runtime: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes