We've seen plenty of media that recreates D-Day from the perspective of the storming of Normandy, but in Overlord, from director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) and producer JJ Abrams, we follow soldiers behind enemy lines who are tasked with taking out a radio tower deep within a small village in the French countryside.
The setup is simple enough, but how the film plays out is anything but. And whereas we may have grown accustomed to brutally realistic depictions of World War II in film and video games, Overlord ups the ante considerably by phasing between authentic period drama, thrill-a-minute action flick and zombies—yeah, zombies!
See, when American soldiers Boyce (Fences' Jovan Adepo) and Ford (Wyatt Russell, Ingrid Goes West) wind up separated from their battalion and in the company of a young French woman (Mathilde Ollivier), they soon learn the Nazis have not only been using a nearby church for communications, but as an experimental lab dabbling in a serum that gifts super strength, immortality and even revival from death to unwitting guinea pigs. Side effects include mild to extreme zombification, however, and as anyone who has picked up a Call of Duty or Wolfenstein video game in the last number of years can tell you, there's not a lot worse than Nazi zombies.
Gore ensues in a very major way. Like, there's so much gore, but Avery manages to tap into his disparate genres in such a seamless way that we wonder why we haven't seen such a hybrid film before. Oh sure, some of the other soldiers are a bit cookie-cutter, from the Italian-American who cracks wise and tough to the young Jewish man who has a particular vested interest in taking down Hitler; the evil Nazi doctor looks and acts exactly as you might imagine were you to picture an evil Nazi doctor. But these tropes wind up forgivable and fade into the background in place of the horror-style elements. Throw in a particularly sadistic SS officer for a villain, an adorable French kid to raise the stakes and any number of tense chase scenes in catacomb tunnels, atmospheric jump-scares and one of the most well-paced and surprising narratives of the year, and Overlord gracefully sidesteps ridiculousness for just plain fun.
Make no mistake, Overlord is as video-gamey as it gets, but given the growing medium's status as economic juggernaut—and its evolution into genuine art form—that's not such a bad thing. It's exhilarating, actually, and throws audiences directly into the fray for some of the most well-choreographed fight scenes and gut-wrenching scares we've seen in some time, not to mention the undead. Don't take your kids (we really mean it), but don't write it off; Overlord is wild fun throughout.
+Exciting blend of cinema styles; the action and horror
-Bland characters; sometimes absurd
Directed by Avery
With Adepo, Russell and Ollivier
Regal, Violet Crown, R, 109 min.