J.J. Abrams’ productions have become known for their ability to make B-movie premises digestible for mainstream audiences. Overlord is a perfect example of this. The film is a wild ride that proves to be much more entertaining than one would initially expect it to be.
Set during World War II, the film follows a group of paratroopers who have been tasked with destroying a German radio tower on top of an old church. Blocking the communications of allied forces, the tower’s removal could help change the course of the war. Their mission proves even more challenging when their plane is shot down leaving only four survivors – Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), Tibbet (John Magaro), and war photographer Chase (Iain De Caestecker) – to soldier on.
Outnumbered and in a foreign land, the men take shelter in Chloe’s (Mathilde Ollivier), a French woman they encounter in the woods, home in a nearby Nazi occupied village. Living with her eight-year-old brother and her ailing aunt, Chloe is committed to keeping her family safe at all cost, even if it means giving into the advances of Nazi Captain Wafner (Pilou Asbæk). After capturing a glimpse of Chloe’s aunt Boyce begins to suspect that sinister things are afoot. His suspicions are confirmed when he inadvertently discovers a secret lab underneath the church. Learning of the strange and horrific experiments taking place, Boyce and his fellow brothers in arms must decide whether completing their mission is more important than liberating the village from the Nazi’s clutches.
Opening with a thrilling sequence in which Boyce and crew must escape a burning carrier plan, Overlord sets the tone early that this will not be your typical war movie. What starts off as a tense behind enemy lines narrative gleefully veers into the horror genre. The mixing of genres, coupled with engaging characters, makes for a monster movie that feels surprisingly fresh.
It is when the film dives further into the realm of the undead that director Julius Avery’s commentary on the nature of war begins to shine through. Beneath its tense action and creative creature designs is an interesting metaphor for the way war changes people. As a fellow paratrooper points out, people are eventually unable to recognize their former self when enduring the horrors of war. The real monsters are not the genetically mutated individuals like “The Mistake”, but rather ruthless men like Captain Wafner who have lost their humanity in the quest to maintain power.
The Blu-ray, which arrives today courtesy of Paramount Home Media Distribution, offers several in-depth bonus features that provide great insight into the film’s production. In the “Creation” featurette J.J. Abrams and crew shed light on everything from the power of Billy Ray’s script to the costume work by legendary designer Anna Sheppard. Another interesting feature is the “Death on the Ground” segment that sheds light on the character drama that flows throughout the film.
Consistently engaging and surprisingly a lot of fun, Overlord is a genre film that deserves your attention.
Bonus Features: Creation, Death Above, Death on the Ground, Death Below, Death No More, Brothers in Arms