PLOT American paratroopers in Nazi-occupied France discover an underground lab full of hideous creatures.
CAST Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier
RATED R (strong bloody violence)
BOTTOM LINE A-plus filmmaking turns this B movie into a not-so-guilty pleasure.
The opening black-and-white images of American fighter planes over the Atlantic suggest that Julius Avery’s “Overlord” is going to be a straight-ahead World War II film. The American paratroopers we meet en route to France are as stock as they come, from the battle-hardened Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell) to sensitive Pvt. Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a newbie whose mettle is about to be tested. If we didn’t know better, we could be watching “Dunkirk,” “The Big Red One” or a hokey old favorite like “Midway.”
We do know better, of course. At some point, “Overlord” is going to switch from “Saving Private Ryan” to full-on zombie-horror flick, with bloody exit wounds, blasted faces, charred flesh and other meaty effects. We’re watching a genre jack-in-the-box of a movie, something like “Predator,” a military survival story that turned into a science-fiction story, or “From Dusk Till Dawn,” a noirish thriller cum supernatural action-comedy. Like those movies, “Overlord” knows the value of keeping a straight face until it’s time to spring the surprise.
Even better, “Overlord” comes with visceral direction from relative unknown Avery (“Son of a Gun”) and a slick script by Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) and Mark L. Smith (“The Revenant”). One reason we get attached to Boyce is that we’re literally attached to him as he plummets from his plane into Nazi-occupied France, one of the movie’s more dazzling displays of camerawork. The scenes within the home of a pretty French woman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who has become the favorite of SS Officer Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), crackle with tension. Even the gunbattles have more zip than you might expect from a movie of this ilk.
The fun really starts when Boyce finds his way into a Nazi compound and discovers a laboratory full of zombies — dead German soldiers and French locals who have been brought back to life with a serum that also grants superhuman strength. “A thousand-year Reich,” Herr Wafner helpfully explains, “needs thousand-year soldiers.”
“Overlord” has a bit of a video-game feel at times, though that just adds to the overall sense of pulpy, gory fun. (Gnarliest joke: a head grenade.)
What does the movie’s title refer to, you ask? There's a D-Day connection that sews everything together quite nicely. At any rate, best not to ask too many questions.