From the vision of director Julius Avery (Son of a Gun) and partnered with Bad Robot productions and J.J. Abrams is a horror movie set in an alternate 1944 France immediately before the Normandy Landings also known by its code name Operation Overlord. Depictions of World War 2 in entertainment being no stranger to reinterpretations or alternate historical events or even combined with other genres but Avery delivers a satisfying and enjoyable experience with a solid cast especially its main antagonist but let down with a plot being somewhat thin and predictable.
The film follows the story of a squad of U.S. paratroopers Tibbet, Chase, Rosenfeld and Boyce led by Corporal Ford who land behind enemy lines in occupied France to destroy a German base by dawn the next morning to assist with Operation Overlord. Realising there is something more sinister going on underneath the church the Germans have taken over as their base, the soldiers work with a local civilian who shelters them while they plan and work to complete their mission. Arriving in the town almost immediately sees the change from war film to zombie survival with an eerie, ominous feeling taking over. They discover that the locals have been used in horrible experiments by the Germans and so they all work to destroy the base to aid the D-Day attack and end the development of their undead army. Once in the town there was the sense that the rapidly approaching deadline to take out the German base and radio tower fell to the side as with a few hours remaining that sense of urgency with the dawn deadline all but disappeared as it approached.
Right away the stereotypical character archetypes of a war film are established including Boyce (portrayed by Jovan Adepo, Fences) fresh from training after being drafted and over the film do understand and connect with more than the others. Boyce is set apart from the others as upon landing in France loses his helmet so looks less like the rest of the squad as well as feeling differently from them too. The film’s focus on Boyce as a man trying to do what is right is juxtaposed by Ford (Wyatt Russell, Black Mirror) who is hardened by the war and his focus is to complete their mission above all else. Also in the US squad is Tibbet, the squad sniper and is more of a foil for Boyce, both new soldiers but the former regarding Boyce as unable to even kill a mouse when the situation calls for it leading to friction between the two. The differences between these characters is cliché but how they clash, literally and physically, drives a lot of the film. Behind enemy lines the squad do butt heads often, over what is right vs completing the mission at all costs, their action or inaction determining how the events of the film progress but also a shift in their roles with Boyce being more pragmatic and Ford and Tibbet caring more about the German prisoners.
French civilian Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) is well depicted a survivor under the Germans and doing what is needed for herself and her young brother. The soldiers especially Boyce learn first hand the effects the war has had and also feeling the hopelessness as a result. As the film goes on Ollivier’s portrayal of Chloe changes and sees her getting more hopeful and fighting back. The face of the Germans in the town is Hauptsturmfuhrer Wafner (Pilou Asbaek, Game of Thrones). Wafner is captain of the garrison of German soldiers based there and Asbaek gives an excellent performance, not unlike Euron Greyjoy, cunning, cruel and sadistic making for a terrific villain all the way through and at one moment giving a Joker like grin that sends shivers down your spine.
The beginning of the film is where we see its biggest technical sequence showing hundreds of planes going to France and many being shot down or destroyed including the events inside the plane transporting the protagonists. The spectacle of this opening scene was well done visually as well as audibly with the plane being ripped apart with the sounds or lack of sound from Boyce’s perspective as he goes to escape the plane and the subsequent landing. The main locations of the small French village and nearby church fit well for the feeling the story is trying to get across with the slightly cramped house to the chilling and grimy feeling of the German laboratory. The special effects for the undead themselves were a little lacklustre but did work well both in terms of seeing the results of some experiments and utilised as enemies for Boyce and the others with fun, action filled encounters feeling the stakes with the protagonists in danger despite having a sense for the ending.
A refreshing mix of war and zombie horror film, Overlord is a highly enjoyable movie that despite is somewhat cliché and predictable but a solid cast and production overall delivers a quality experience particularly Asbaek. Overlord paints an intriguing depiction of France in a fictional World War 2 just before the Normandy landing by the allied powers and its importance, especially relevant being released so close to Rememberance or Veterans Day.