the horrors of war
Director: Julius Avery
Review: RJ Bland
Many months ago when speculation was rife surrounding the next instalment of the 'Cloverfield' franchise, one upcoming project seemed to be the one on everyone's lips. 'Overlord' was the feature in question, and although no one really had any idea of what the film was about – the rumoured involvement of JJ Abrams was enough to set tongues wagging. However, it soon became apparent that 'Overlord' was nothing to do with big alien monsters lumbering around cityscapes smashing buildings up etc. No, this promised to be a full-on WW2 horror set against the back-drop of D-Day. The action-packed trailers and promise of an R-rating were enough to get most horror fans to sit up and pay attention. But would this be a perfect mash up between zombie horror and war drama – or would it be a load of old revisionist nonsense? (cough* U-571).
A swarm of American planes fly into Northern France in an attempt to pre-empt the D-Day landings. The Nazis have a communications tower that needs to be destroyed if the allies are to have any chance of succeeding at a pivotal point of the war – and the plan is to drop American soldiers behind enemy lines. However, after pretty much all of the American planes (and soldiers) are wiped out, the responsibility falls on a small dysfunctional group of soldiers to carry out the mission. As they traverse the French countryside, they run into a local girl who is scavenging from the bodies of fallen soldiers. She agrees to take them back to her village which is positioned just a couple of miles away from the communications tower. However when they get back to the village their efforts to plan an attack are hindered by a large Nazi regiment led by a despotic SS Hauptsturmführer. However, rumours of strange experiments going on at the tower promise an all-together new and terrifying threat...
The immersive and intense opening sequence of 'Overlord' is a statement of intent from Director Julius Avery and it quickly establishes the tone and style of things to come. Claustrophobic, brutal, frenetic, dark and unforgiving. And although the rest of the film never quite reaches the heights of this opening five minutes, it has a bloody good go at it.
Genre movies set during wars are not a particularly new concept. Films like 'Death Watch', 'The Keep' and 'Below' have all satisfied those looking for some military flavour to their horror. Then there's a whole other sub-genre that combines Nazis and the occult (Think Wolfenstein and Dead Snow). The fact that the Nazis did indeed engage in some horrific experiments on human patients coupled with rumours of occult practises seems to be enough ammunition for film-makers (and video game makers) to have taken the idea and run with it. There is always the risk of it all coming off as bad taste or just plain ridiculous but 'Overlord' successfully navigates the territory of hardened war-time thriller and zany zombie horror. It's a tough combination to pull off but 'Overlord' deserves enormous credit for doing just that. More than anything though, its good gory fun. I mean, anyone that doesn't get some joy from watching a bunch of evil Nazi soldiers get killed in a variety of horrible ways is missing out.
Those looking for action and blood won't be disappointed and Avery's does well to create an oppressively dank and grim on-screen look and atmosphere that compliments the nasty stuff quite nicely. However, this is more than a simple shoot-em-up and the script (by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) takes itself a bit more seriously than that. Aside from the far-fetched zombie stuff, the film still reiterates the sheer horror and destruction of war. For long stretches it even feels like a straight up drama, with most of the tension revolving around trying to evade detection from local German forces. Smith and Ray's script allows us to explore our central characters as well as give us a chance to prepare for (and recover from) the next impressively staged action set-piece. Visually, the film is beautifully murky and bleak too – it's no surprise that the cinematographers have worked on series such as Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders
Overlord isn't a star-studded affair but the leads all offer up solid performances. Jovan Adepo (Fences) is great as the reluctant Boyce and Wyatt Russell proves that his range includes dark and brooding. Russell (Son of Kurt) is perhaps best known for his roles in comedies but here he shows that he can play the lead in an action flick. Pilou Asbaek (better known to GOT fans as Euron Greyjoy) is brilliantly horrid as the head-villain too. He's just got the perfect face to play a bad guy. John Magaro and Mathilde Ollivier are also worth mentioning too. These characters are all flawed and the odds are firmly stacked against them - and it's gruellingly captivating stuff watching them try and survive.
If there are any criticisms it's perhaps that the third act feels a little uninspired when compared to the fantastic hour or so that preceded it. It's still gripping stuff but it all ends up pretty much where and how you'd expect and a few more surprises wouldn't have gone amiss. Part of me also wanted a little more exposition and info into the science behind what is going on in the tower but it kind of feels like nit-picking and sometimes these explanations can just seem a trifle ludicrous so it's probably best that it's not covered in any great detail.
If you're looking for a bold, holds-no-punches actioner to set yourself up for the impending run of Christmas and family orientated features then this will be just the ticket.