A strange cinematic bisque, Overlord so effectively stirs genuinely jarring horror elements into a gripping war movie until it’s impossible to distinguish the ingredients in the pot. It somehow combines tropes that have survived throughout decades of movies and books and video games into something new and…can you use the word “refreshing” about a movie that features so many Nazi entrails? To hell with it–I’m using it, anyway. Overlord is ballsy, well-made, and–if you’re not terribly squeamish–a damn good time.
The movie starts with a jaw-dropping shot plucked right from The Longest Day: A massive armada of destroyers, transports, bombers, and fighters churning across the frothy English Channel en route to the Normandy coast. A group of archetypal paratroopers bounce through an aerial minefield before making a hasty splashdown in the soggy French countryside. The movie is fairly conventional when it comes to the GIs: We get the Fearless Sergeant, the Hardened Corporal, the Wiseass Italian Dude, and the Sensitive Hero–all of whom playfully jab at each other, Private Ryan-style. Our fighting men fumble through the fog of war and struggle to reach their objective: A Nazi radio tower mounted atop a church. They encounter a fierce French girl (Mathilde Ollivier, a strong presence) who offers reluctant aid.
It’s here that the story makes a fascinating pivot, when the soldiers unearth a dungeon of Nazi experiments, straight outta Castle Wolfenstein. In their desperate final act, the Third Reich constructs an army of undead berserkers, ready to fling back the Allied advance. This despicable endeavor is headed by two characters who will be familiar to anyone who has seen a lot of WWII movies: There’s the nebbish yet ethically frigid Nazi scientist, and–best of all–the urbane, slimy Gestapo-type. Seriously, is there a more frightening villain in all of movie history than a serenely evil SS officer? The filmmakers make this character hit all the notes: He struts into a house of frightened people–cigarette dangling recklessly from his mouth–plucks off his hat and adjusts his hair. It’s a clear reference to Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape–both films clearly acting as inspirations to this one.
Even when Overlord quotes classic sources, it really only uses them as starting points. The second half of the film veers wildly towards blood-soaked horror. Anyone who can’t handle heavy gore will spend much of the third act turned away from the screen. For those who are game, this is an intelligent, well-paced spectacle that keeps up the suspense all the way through. It’s rare–refreshing, even–to see a movie like this unafraid to put a new spin on familiar story elements. Overlord is a great, gory war epic.
(Overlord is rated R. Obviously not for kids, or adults who can’t handle the sight of a dude getting his innards pulled out with a hook.)