As Overlord opens, we are shoved into a plane stuffed with anxious paratroopers, waiting to be dropped outside enemy lines the night before D-Day. The men have a crucial mission to destroy a German radio tower in an old church (the success of the seaborne invasion depends on it), and tensions are high as they nervously prepare. We spend brief moments with the men – some barely hiding their anxious terror, others posturing with cocky bravado.
It is here that we are introduced to the first horrors of Overlord. As planes are shot down around them, the men prepare to jump – their chances of survival plummeting with each passing second. Their fear is palpable, and the reality of this scenario is sobering and devastating.
This is a bold opening that prepares us for the following intensity and sets the tone for each character we’re introduced to on that flight. We’re shown that explosives expert Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell – Black Mirror, Lodge 49) is an edgy man-on-a-mission, a lone wolf with nothing to lose; Pvt. Boyce (Jovan Adepo – The Leftovers, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) is our relatable everyman with a good heart and strong conscience; Tibbet (John Magaro – The Big Short, Carol) is the loudmouth, watch-your-own-ass soldier archetype we so often see in film; and Chase (Iain De Caestecker – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is way out of his depth in this violent world of war.
As the men prepare to complete their mission and take out the radio tower, Boyce uncovers a horrible secret about the German base; the Nazis have been conducting monstrous experiments on their prisoners.
Now, it’s worth a reminder that – while not quite as fantasy-level nightmarish – this highly unethical scientific experimentation did actually occur during WWII. Overlord stomps on the throttle of this horrific truth to create tragic abominations that will haunt your dreams.
The cast finds balance in the strong-willed Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier – The Misfortunes of François Jane), a civilian who has witnessed and been subjected to the Nazis’ cruelty during their invasion of her town. Chloe is resourceful, fierce, and capable. She’s not placed in the story as a damsel to be saved or wooed; she’s a key player in the development of the plot with her own skills and motivations.
Pilor Asbæk (Ghost in the Shell, Game of Thrones) plays Dr. Wafner, a villain so perfectly evil it’s almost cartoonish. Writers Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant, Vacancy) went all out, checking every single box on the “awful villain” list to ensure that we really hate this guy. When paired with a forceful performance from Asbæk, it works deliciously well. He’s a vile character and the perfect super evil Nazi villain for such an ambitiously violent film.
And yes, there is a ton of violence. Overlord has earned its R rating with vicious brutality and genuinely shocking moments of body horror. Director Julius Avery lovingly delivers the most intense transformation scene that horror audiences have witnessed in a long time. It’s gnarly as hell and incredible to watch.
Overlord circles a concept that was phrased so eloquently by Winston Churchill; fear is a reaction, courage is a decision. Even when faced with a seemingly unstoppable threat (that truly, effectively feels insurmountable), our soldiers know that failure is not an option. They’re not an elite squad of highly trained professionals – they’re just men who have been thrust into this mission where the stakes are impossibly high.
As an audience, you can get swept away by the big-budget action sequences and visceral gore. Really, really easily, actually. They’re very well done. But Overlord’s base instincts are very human; you feel invested and concerned for our heroes and their mission.
That said, the J.J. Abrams-produced Overlord certainly has a target audience. Fans of the horror (and action/horror) genre and anyone that has enjoyed the Nazi Zombie maps in Call of Duty will surely have an absolute blast. Those in search of a period piece with a bit more flavor will likely not find this to their taste.
In the ring of action/war movies, Overlord is brass-knuckle boxing. Though the form is surprisingly polished, its hits reverberate with a brutal force that will knock the wind right out of you.
Overlord (recently praised by Stephen King) had its premiere at Fantastic Fest before moving to Toronto After Dark in October.
You can find it in theatres on November 9th, and find the trailer and poster below.