The legends of Nazis occultism are a long-standing part of the popular culture that could be traced back to when the Nazi Party was still in power. The most notable examples are two different Indiana Jones movies featuring Nazis trying to uncover and exploit Christian artifacts. This is partly due to the Aryan myths the fascist death cult promoted, surrounding the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) itself with an air of enigma. Post-war fascination with the Nazis was further fueled by information unearthed by historians. How else could a nation become such an enormous threat to the world, and its men and women commit acts so vile if they weren’t dealing with unholy powers?
Directed by Julius Avery, the 2018 mid-budget thriller Overlord is a film set in such a framework.
As a part of a preliminary force airdropped into occupied France, Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and his comrades are charged with the mission of neutralizing a radio-jamming tower located in a small town, to make air support possible for Allied forces when D-Day comes. Unfortunately, a Nazi anti-air fire and ground search party makes quick work of the paratroopers. Boyce is left with the intense Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), the mouthy Tibbet (John Magaro), and a timid photographer, Chase (Iain De Caestecker). With the aid of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), a local civilian, the squad is determined to carry out their mission. Soon, the squad discovers the Nazis were experimenting on the townsfolk to make zombie super soldiers with the tar deep in the ground. The already impossible mission gets more dangerous.
If you are like me, you won’t recognize most of these actors. In fact, the only person I recognized was the SS officer villain portrayed by Pilou Asbæk, who played Euron Greyjoy in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. The unfamiliar faces were exciting at first, as the survivability of the characters wouldn’t be affected by the celebrity status of the cast—any member of the task force could bite the bullet at any point of the movie. However, as the story progresses, one soon realizes the arcs characters go through are thoroughly unremarkable, and the story doesn’t deviate much from expectation. The performance delivered by the cast was good, but the writing hardly provides them with the opportunity to truly shine. Terror and fast-paced action take the front seat in this movie.
Overlord is a mix-breed of horror and war film, but don’t worry, it’s still plenty scary. The film takes the Nazis’ atrocities and produces a hair-raising showcase of bodily horror. The trek into the Nazi secret laboratory is a thoroughly disturbing experience. Overlord also makes full use of the R rating—it doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore. Practical effects were well-done; the Nazi-made abominations were not only positively disgusting but also possess presence, which is something CG creatures in modern blockbusters lack. But when the need to use CG arises, the budget of this film starts to show. The plane ride to France and the subsequent airdropping scenes look like video game cutscenes (the untethered camera did not help with the realism issues), and certain creature animations look jerky.
The war part of Overlord is surprisingly satisfying. The sound of gunfires pack a punch, and the flying debris agrees. The two-pronged battle during the climax consists of paratroopers drawing Schutzstaffel soldiers away from the bunker, while the protagonists confront the nigh-immortal monsters underground. The explosive intensity of firefights in Overlord allows the “normal” battles to hold their own against the bloody, brutal brawl in the labs.
Overlord is not a new spin on old conventions, and memorable the characters are not, but the film excels at delivering terrifying moments and exciting action. If you want a two-hour heart-pumping ride in a multiplex, Overlord is a decent pick.