The gorgeous and gory new horror movie Overlord neatly ties together two facets of World War II history: Operation Overlord and Hitler’s obsession with the occult. Operation Overlord was the codename for the Battle of Normandy and the Allied troops really did land behind enemy lines to clear the way for the massive beach invasion of D-Day, as suggested in the film.
But what if the Allied troops encountered more than just determined German soldiers? What if they had evil doctors preying on prisoners to create the perfect undead soldier, the “soldier for the thousand year Reich”? There have, of course, been other films that considered the intersection of Nazis and zombies, notably Dead Snow, The Frozen Dead and Iron Sky, but nothing that even comes close to the extraordinary verisimilitude of Overlord.
Let’s just say this up front; as a war movie, Overlord stands with Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan, and other greats, it’s that well assembled. Starting right out with the opening scenes, it’s really an Oscar-worthy production.
Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t get alarmingly, somewhat stomach-churningly gory once the zombies and other lab experiments finally show up on camera. We’ll come back to the gore level, though.
The film opens inside a BC-47 carrying a squad of Allied soldiers heading to their drop point. Through increasingly turbulent skies and a heavy anti-aircraft attack, they have their mission: Destroy the Nazi radio jammer atop the church tower in a tiny French village.
The story revolves around the innocent protagonist Boyce (an extremely likable Jovan Adepo), his wise-cracking Italian fellow private Tibbet (John Magaro) and demolitions expert Ford (Wyatt Russell), who ends up being in charge of the men on the ground. Predictably, they bump into the lovely French resistance fighter Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) and her cute little 8yo brother Paul (Gianny Taufer). The soldiers need to make it up to the church tower and destroy the radio jammer before the main landing on Normandy beach and with a little help from Chloe they might just accomplish their mission.
Except for the darn Germans, as embodied by the evil Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), who has blackmailed Chloe into being his consort (I am thinking of a cruder word, but you get the gist of it) while keeping a heavy thumb on the entire town. Week by week, the French are dragged up to the church for experiments, though no-one knows quite what’s going on.
After quite a long time as a straightforward war movie – with some solid tension and great scenes – Boyce finally ends up in the church, just to find that there’s a dark and frightening basement full of freaks and mad science experiments that yell, moan and reach through bars to try and grab anyone who passes by.
This is when the film really switches from a war movie to a zombie monster bloodbath, with the latter 20% of the film being fairly disgusting in moments. Those visual effects have gotten mighty good with horrible disfigurements and strange jerky motion. Will Boyce and Ford survive? Will they accomplish their critical mission and ensure the success of the Normandy landing?
While there is a fair amount of tension, there’s really no doubt that they are going to succeed, though whether they’ll all live to tell the tale is another story entirely. A happy ending? In a horror movie? Have you ever seen anything in this genre?
I really enjoyed Overlord quite a bit. I like a good war movie where the light of courage, or cloud of cowardice, can be explored, and Overlord offers up a very impressive imagining of a drop behind enemy lines in the waning days of World War II. Exterior shots, the entire parachute jump sequence, even creeping through the dungeon laboratory are all beautifully produced and well worth seeing on the big screen.
Just be prepared for the gore. It takes a long time to show up, but once we have Allies vs Zombie Nazis, it gets pretty gross at times and as with all good zombies, these prove darn hard to kill. If you’re okay with a master class in yechy visual effects, you’re going to really love Overlord. It offers up a horror vision far more polished than almost any other movie I’ve seen in the genre.