by Peter J. O'Connell
Overlord. Released Nov. 2018. Runtime: 109 mins. MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content.
War is a horrible thing, and Overlord, directed by Julius Avery, is a horror film set in World War II, specifically the night before and the day of D-Day. The film begins with a fast-paced, very noisy, quite spectacular sequence of a bombing raid by Allied planes on German positions on the French coast. The planes draw fierce anti-aircraft fire. The sequence is filmed in a garish palette with effects done by pre-computer methods. It's as if the “pictures” in this motion picture are combat posters from the WWII era itself.
This approach to effects is quite (wait for it) effective in plunging us into the story. “Plunge” is the operatic word, for one of the aims of the raid is to drop a squad of paratroopers near a French town where a radio transmitter important to the Germans is located in the tower of an old church. The squad's mission: Destroy the transmitter.
In classic WWII movie style, the squad features a variety of types: the leader, Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell) is a hard-bitten warrior totally focused on the given mission; Boyce (Javon Adepo) is a brave African-American with a sensitive side; Tibbett (John Magaro) is a sniper proud of his shooting skills; Chase (Iain De Caestecker) is a somewhat nervous combat photographer; Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite) is a Jewish soldier. Dawson (Jacob Anderson) is a squad member who gets killed early on in a minefield.
After Dawson's death, the team continues onward, enacting various tropes of World War II movies, but doing so in a style somewhat reminiscent of Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009). The G.I.s encounter Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a beauteous young Frenchwoman, who takes them into the village where the church with the radio tower is located. The team members are in Chloe's house when a Nazi patrol performs a routine inspection, and the Americans have to hide. But when a Nazi officer, Capt. Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), attempts to rape Chloe, Boyce attacks him, forcing the other G.I.s to take Wafner prisoner.
Boyce makes his way into the Nazi base, the church, where he learns that Mengele-type doctors are carrying out various experiments in a basement lab, experiments involving a mysterious liquid compound discovered under the church. Guess what? The liquid brings corpses back to life as zombies, with inhuman strength, a resistance to gunfire, and a very, very hostile attitude. As Wafner says: “A thousand-year Reich needs thousand-year soldiers.”
Overlord now transforms from a war picture to a horror movie, with lots of gore and yucky deformations of faces and figures. (These effects are achieved by brilliant use of makeup rather than by computers.) Zombies destroy and are destroyed (with difficulty), and live persons, both Germans and G.I.s, injected with the liquid turn monstrous. But does the transmitter get destroyed?
Drop in on your multiplex to find out. This hybrid of war and horror is quite exciting and quite entertaining (despite—because of?—the gore and yuck), and it is an imaginative success. A salute to director Avery and his writers and to Javon Adepo, Pilou Asbaek, and Mathilde Ollivier—all of whom you probably will be seeing a lot of in the future!
“Footnotes” to the film: Operation Overlord was the name given to the D-Day invasion. There were, however, no bombing raids on German positions the night before. The Allied commanders would not have wanted to alert the Germans to the possibility of impending landings by making such attacks. Some paratroopers were dropped, however. Also, Private Boyce is African-American, but whites and blacks did not serve together in the same units in World War II.