By Nicholas Barham
It’s not often that a campy B-movie premise is adopted and turned into a perfect A-list movie worthy of accolades. But that is exactly what happened in 2018 upon the release of Overlord, an action-horror war film directed by Julius Avery, and produced by J. J. Abrams.
Set during World War 2 on the eve of D-Day, our heroes are tasked with infiltrating a Nazi-occupied village in France and taking out a radio jamming tower. Overlord starts with a bang as most of the allied paratroopers perish when their plane is besieged by anti-air fire, leaving us with a small squad, our titular heroes.
The small squad alone in a hostile environment creates an atmosphere of isolation and tension. This is not your typical war movie of a band of heroes fighting alongside a vast swath of allied troops, immediately the audience can see that Overlord is more horror film than a war film. Upon arriving at the village our heroes slowly learn that something sinister and otherworldly is afoot in this quiet French Village. Villagers have been systematically terrorised by the invading Nazi horde, and many have been kidnapped and taken beneath the church to its catacombs where dark experiments are taking place. The squad hole up in a small house with a young French woman, Chloe (played by Mathilde Ollivier), and her kid brother. They are quickly joined by the main villain, Captain Wafner an SS officer. Wafner provides a terrifying opponent for our heroes and is played brilliantly by Pilous Asbæk.
Overlord does not follow the standard Hollywood formula of constant high-octane action and gore, rather the film boasts some quieter tension-filled scenes where our heroes have to avoid detection and sneak past Nazi troopers, slowly uncovering the strange horrors that plague this once quiet town. There are many unsettling hints that something is wrong, and the film did an amazing job of drawing out the tension and creating a sense of dread.
Running under the village is some tar with strange esoteric properties. This tar has the ability to transform those injected into undying monsters. The Nazis plan to use this tar to create super-soldiers in their war against the allies.
The main character, Private First-Class Edward Boyce, is portrayed perfectly by Jovan Adepo. It is refreshing to see the main character for an action film that is not some roided-out beefy soldier who is unflinching in the face of danger. Rather Boyce is the perfect character for Overlord which is undoubtedly more horror than it is action. Boyce is just a regular guy who finds himself stuck in a horrifying situation. He’s by no means a fearless hero, on the contrary, his fear throughout the film is palpable. His terror at the situation he is in, coupled with his innocence and naiveté of the horrors of war, make it easy for the audience to empathise with him. It is he who first stumbles his way into the underground laboratory and has to sneak past the guards, all the while unmasking the horrors within. That particular scene had to be one of my favourites, the atmosphere and tension present was reminiscent of the best haunted-house horror films.
Corporal Lewis Ford (played by Wyatt Russell) provides a perfect counterpart to Boyce, he emulates the dark corrupting nature of war. He’s pessimistic and dead set on achieving the goals of the mission at any cost, even if it means not saving everyone, or engaging in morally questionable acts. The moral tension between Ford’s pessimistic moral nihilism, and Boyce’s principled virtues, provided an interesting underlying tension in our small band of heroes which is refreshing for a genre which is normally filled with mindless violence and macho-buff soldiers.
Overlord ends climatically, and those who love lots of action, explosions, blood, and gore will be extremely happy in the last 40 minutes of the film. In the end, Overlord achieves at providing the very best in not only horror but action as well, providing just enough action to appease those looking for gunfights and explosions. But at its heart Overlord is primarily a horror masterpiece set within one of the darkest periods of the 20th century.