[Review] ‘Overlord’ Might Be a Better War Movie Than Horror Movie

I’m a bit late to the party, but I finally got around to seeing “Overlord” this weekend.  The concept of supernatural stuff going on during WWII isn’t a new idea, but there’s plenty of room to explore the premise.  From movies like Indiana Jones to video games like “Wolfenstein” there have been plenty of unique spins on the concept.  So does “Overlord” bring something new to the table or is it just recycling material?

In “Overlord” a squad of paratroopers are sent on a critical mission behind enemy lines.  In a few hours Allied troops will begin operation D-Day, but in order to give them a better chance of succeeding the paratroopers will have to take out a radio tower in an old church.  Unfortunately, the paratroopers meet heavy resistance and only a handful of troops survive the landing.  Determined to carry out their mission, the soldiers venture into enemy territory and learn that the Nazis have been creating supernatural horrors.

Director Julius Avery certainly has a knack for creating gut wrenching moments.  “Overlord” opens up with a supremely tense moment where the US paratroopers are being shot out of the sky by an insane amount of artillery.  It’s an incredible opening that ranks with some of the best intense war movie scenes.  Afterwards, Avery keeps the unease building as we’re left with only a few soldiers against a battalion of Nazis.  Avery is clearly a great visual director and someone who understands how to build tension, but the movies shortcomings come with the horror elements.

As the film begins to reveal what the Nazis are up too we learn that their experiments revolve around trying to create soldiers that can’t die.  These experimentations involve taking already dead soldiers and seeing if they can be brought back to life.  That sounds like the sort of idea that would lead to all sorts of horrific creations, but unfortunately we only get one or two instances of truly unsettling monstrosities.  Mostly the movie just presents us with disfigured humans that would fit right at home in your typical zombie movie.  It’s unfortunate because so much of the movie is visually arresting and grossing, but the horror elements come off as just being safe easy choices that don’t live up to the rest of the films intensity.

And while that’s unfortunate, the movie still has plenty of good merits.  Along with the intense war segments, the movie is also supported by a strong cast of characters. The three primary characters of the movie are Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), and Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) and each one brings a strong element to the film.  Boyce represents the fresh faced soldier that’s still determined to let his moral compass guide him through the horrific nature of war.  Then there’s Ford who has all but resided to succumb to the harsh reality of war.  There’s an interesting dynamic between the two as the film asks what does it mean to be a good person and a good soldier and how do those ideals conflict with each other.  And then there’s Chloe who represents the innocent civilians caught in all of the madness.  Each character is well performed, but at times they do feel like familiar archetypes that would be found in any other World War 2 movie. There’s even the typical Italian New Yorker who talks a lot of smack with his thick New York accent, but is a big softy underneath his tough exterior.

On the Nazi side of things there isn’t a whole lot going on except for your typical creepy rape prone Nazi antagonists.  Still, Pilou Asbaek does a solid job playing the main villain of the film.  He strikes an appropriately menacing figure and does an impressive job of leaving you feeling uneasy even when he’s trying to act friendly.

“Overlord” is a solid movie throughout, but it’s clear that the strengths of the movie rely on its ability to handle the intensity and maliciousness of war.  It’s only when it gets into the horror elements that the movie struggles to find a tone.  It has moments where you can see flashes of unsettling body horror and those moments are absolutely great.  But then it has other moments where it feels like a high quality B-movie.  This is a movie I feel comfortable recommending, but will also warn you that it might leave you wanting for more.

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