DIRECTOR Julius Avery
CAST Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbaek, Iain De Caestecker
PLOT As the hours tick down to D-day, four American soldiers are dropped behind enemy lines in France on a mission crucial to the success of the Normandy landings. But their objective is complicated when they stumble upon a monstrous Nazi experiment in a fortified church. J.J. ABRAMS’ MONSTER-SCI-FI Cloverfield projects have always been streaked-through with horror: the 2008 original had its subway tunnel of spiderbeasties, 10 Cloverfield Lane had an acidsoaked John Goodman, and this year’s Paradox was a bit of a nightmare full stop. And while the Bad Robot-produced Overlord turns out not to be a Cloverfield movie after all, despite the rumours, it also stands apart from that anthology film series by inverting its formula. There is weird science at play here, in the unholy Nazi experiments lurking in a French church, but for the most part we’re in full-blown, gung-ho gore-horror territory.
At least, that’s where Overlord ends up. It starts as a war movie, hours before D-day, opening with a retro title card as planes full of American soldiers enter French airspace. In one aircraft is Sgt. Ford (Russell) and his troops, young Private Boyce (Adepo) among them, with a vital mission: infiltrate a Nazi-occupied French village and take out a signal-jamming radio tower. No success, no D-day.
Up-and-coming director Julius Avery delivers a ferocious opening act, smartly
framing war as a horror-show all of its own. Boyce’s arrival to the battlefield is a literal baptism of fire, snatched from a vortex of flames as his plane is shot down, and descends to the ground in a barrage of explosions and gunfire. On arrival, the air is thick with fog, and bodies hang from trees illuminated by a hazy orange glow. War is hell. But once surviving foursome of Boyce, Ford, Tibbet (John Magaro) and war photographer Chase (De Caestecker) pitch up at their mission destination, the horrors of war become more literal with the nightmarish creations of Nazi scientist Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman).
After such a gripping opener, it’s here Overlord starts to lose its way. The pacing lulls as the gang join forces with resisting villager Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), and while Avery teases the supernatural elements effectively he plays his full hand too soon. The genre switch-up isn’t as sudden as, say, From Dusk Till Dawn, while Pilou Asbaek’s sneering SS baddie Wafner pales in comparison to Inglourious Basterds’ Hans Landa or Pan’s Labyrinth’s Captain Vidal.
Crucially, every time Overlord looks set to tip into a glorious Grindhouseinspired monster-mash finale, it holds back from hitting the levels of adrenalinefuelled insanity you hope for. It’s a fun ride, but the script isn’t knowingly silly enough to hit that so-dumb-it’s-brilliant sweet spot, and the gory denouement doesn’t conjure quite enough carnage to mask a lack of real scares.
Still, Adepo puts fine work into his underwritten everyman hero, Russell gives good gruff tough-guy grumbling, and the body horror sequences are impressively gnarly. As producer J.J. Abrams’ first foray into all-out horror, Overlord’s got guts. You’ll just wish it had more.
VERDICT Overlord injects a healthy dose of schlock into familiar war-movie tropes to create an entertainingly grungy hybrid, but it never quite kicks into overdrive.