Synopsis: On the eve of D-Day, a group of American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation.
Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Jacob Anderson, Dominic Applewhite, Pilou Asbaek, Iain De Caestecker, John Magaro, Mathilde Ollivier, Bokeem Woodbine
Director: Julius Avery
Running Length: 119 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I’m old. Or, at least, I felt old at the 10pm screening I attended near a local college campus for Overlord. The audience was largely college students in their pajamas (or whatever constitutes proper sleeping attire nowadays) and the conversations were about everything from the mid-term election the next day to what their actual mid-terms were going to be about. Driving across town from another screening I was exhausted and not sure why I was subjecting myself to such a late night showing. Mostly I was just praying I wouldn’t fall asleep and have the screening rep catch me with eyes closed.
I shouldn’t have been worried because Overlord comes out so guns a-blazing that it would be next to impossible to snooze through this highly effective hybrid of war movie and B-horror flick. Deliberately disorienting when it intends to be and purposefully focused when it needs our attention, the movie is a neat surprise. With all the mystery surrounding the production of the film I wasn’t sure quite what to expect going in, yet it kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat throughout.
It’s 1944 and a regiment of soldiers are being deployed into a hornet’s nest in Nazi-occupied France. Among the gang are the mild-mannered Boyce (Jovan Adepo, mother!), the hot-headed Tibbet (John Magaro, The Big Short), photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker, Lost River) and the newly transferred Ford (Wyatt Russell, Everybody Wants Some!). No sooner do they parachute behind enemy lines on a mission to take out a radio tower on top of a church then they come across Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) who brings them into her village crawling with Nazis. This is no ordinary village, though, and the soldiers will soon find out why the population keeps dwindling.
To say more about what happens over the course of one nightmarish evening for Boyce and his fellow brothers in arms would be to spoil the fun screenwriters Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) have cooked up. I will say it involves disturbing Nazi experiments and the creation of a serum with a powerful impact on anyone injected with it…living or dead. Especially the dead. As the night wanes on and the men try to complete their mission that will help the entire armed forces, they must also outwit a Nazi madman (Pilou Asbaek, Lucy) and not wind up the next specimen for the bizarre trials being conducted in the cavernous underground basement of the church.
Director Julius Avery starts things off with a bang, in a sequence that made me recall fondly Steven Speilberg’s opening to Saving Private Ryan. Now I wouldn’t dare to compare the two as equals but there are a lot of parallels on how both films open in absolute chaos before settling in and settling down. The sound level in my theater was cranked up and at times I thought the roof was going to blow off the joint. Avery deftly movies between these action sequences and smaller character driven moments between Boyce and Chloe. Taking the time to give us these insights helps us relate to them more…we get invested pretty quickly in each person we meet which winds up raising the stakes in our rooting for their survival.
Leading the cast is Adepo in a strong performance as a solider that has his eyes opened to the horrors of war. Starting off as (literally) not being able to kill a mouse, he gets his sea legs quickly when faced with the nastiness that he finds in the village. I also quite liked Russell as his commanding officer who has already seen enough atrocities to last a lifetime and isn’t as easily spooked as his direct report. He’s gruff and tough but not without common sense. Ollivier is more than a token female and gets her share of time to stand up for herself and younger brother. It’s a strikingly well cast movie, from minor roles that are briefly onscreen all the way up to Asbaek’s increasingly unhinged main villain.
In this time of tentpole films and franchise starters, I also liked that Overlord felt like a self-contained movie. It’s not out to create a series (though it easily could) and doesn’t need to cheapen a fine wrap up by ending with a “that’s not all folks” stinger. There’s no post-credit scene so what you sign up for is what you get – anything more than that can all be worked out later. I get the feeling this is a one and done endeavor and that’s totally fine with me. It’s a strong film with a few good scares that hits all the right notes and would easily be something I’d watch again with friends.