Empire (Australasia) - - On. Screen - BEN TRAVIS

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.

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