For the past few years, World War II dramas have taken a very conventional approach to their storytelling, focusing on either a key political figure fighting from an office, a few boots on the ground or planes in the sky.
Finally, a movie has come along that seeks to break new ground in the genre in a different and gruesome way. That movie is horror-thriller, “Overlord.”
Following a group of American paratroopers as they fight to bring down a German radio tower, the film takes a dark and unique turn as the soldiers discover secret Nazi experiments in the lower levels of the old church housing the tower.
The story, while featuring some familiar elements for both encompassing genres, is a unique blend of the two that works well and keeps audiences on the edge of their seats from the opening entrance in France to the final big battle between the Americans and the Nazis — and their zombies.
One of the most interesting story elements of the film is the development seen in some characters as the story progresses, namely Jovan Adepo’s Private Ed Boyce and Wyatt Russell’s Corporal Ford.
Boyce, a fresh-faced private struggling with a fear of death, finds emotional growth and strength while dealing with both the horrors of war and of the experimentation in the small French town the story is set.
He finds a way to balance the importance of finishing their mission and protecting hundreds of soldiers set to storm the beaches of Normandy while also saving the lives of a few from the darkness hiding in the underbelly of the church.
Ford, a corporal who has seen some dark times while fighting in Italy, is always about no deviations from the mission, but as complications arise, he finds himself wrestling with his morals and finding a way to accomplish his mission to do the right thing.
Featuring a cast of “I-know-their-face-but-not-their-name” performers, every member does well to portray their characters who, albeit made up of familiar archetypes, are every bit as interesting to watch, especially Adepo and Russell.
Russell, who’s more well-known for his work in comedies including 2014’s “22 Jump Street,” 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” and this year’s acclaimed AMC series “Lodge 49,” actually proves he has dramatic chops as the corporal.
Given that his character has seen and done some horrible things, the role requires someone who can show that raw anger and devotion to the mission and Russell wonderfully embodies every necessary element of Ford.
In addition to the solid story and strong performances, the film succeeds in large part thanks to its breakneck pacing and exhilarating action, with three key set pieces standing out amongst the rest.
The first comes in the opening as audiences are thrown right into the action as Boyce and company are thrown from their plane after it’s shot down. As Boyce spins in the air, struggling to get his bearings and find his ripcord, the camera and the audience are spun right with him, effectively creating the same sense of fear and dread in the viewers as Boyce.
The second is by far the most disturbing of the film, and one of the most shocking in cinematic history, as war photographer, Chase is transformed by a mysterious serum into a rage-fueled, indestructible monster.
The combination of body contortions, disturbing practical effects and minor CGI make up for a horrifying transformation that will have many viewers crawling in their seats.
The third, unfortunately, won’t be discussed here due to spoiler territory, but what can be praised is an explosive one-take featured in the sequence.
“Overlord” might not reach the B-movie heights some audiences are prepared for, but thanks to a combination of stylish direction, thrilling action, a strong combination of wartime drama and dark horror, this is a fast-paced and entertaining joy ride from start to finish.