Overlord might just have to settle for the most astonishing, yet nauseating opening sequence of the year. Julius Avery’s WW2 hybrid opens with a panic-inducing parachute drop, as Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and the rest of his battalion are caught in a hellish storm of enemy free fire. It’s a dizzying blend of vomit, severed body parts, and twisted metal from obliterated helicopters. And it’s a surprisingly spectacular opening for a flick, based on its trailer, striving for bizarre, B-movie horror hybridisation.
And whilst the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to the excellent standards of that opening sequence, Overlord provides enough ridiculous genre thrills to engage its audience. Boyce is joined by the curt, war-calloused Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell, son of Hollywood heavyweights Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), as well as the remnants of their squadron. After parachuting in behind enemy lines, this small group of American soldiers attempt to complete their mission – destroying a Nazi radio tower that will prove crucial in the advancement of the American troops following them into France.
And of course the Nazis’ radio-jamming tower perching atop a church, which initially seems like a disguise for typical dastardly doings, is hiding something far more devious behind its walls. After arriving in the French village where the tower is situated, Boyce and co learn from a steely, young woman (Mathilde Ollivier) that the Nazis have been rounding up the locals and punishing them inside the church. This leads the curious Americans to probe and discover the supernatural elements lurking within the church.
This amalgamation of genres is nothing new but Avery does an admirable job at trying to refresh this hybrid. There are sombre reminders of the brutality of war – the silhouettes of dead men hanging from trees – and there are some dark, sudden twists in tone, not least a torture scene featuring a knuckle duster. But this is equalled out by the cliches: Corporal Ford’s emotionally numb one-liners (‘You keep worrying about dead bodies you’re going to be one’), and Ollivier’s Chloe, who seems to have been modelled off Inglorious Basterds’ vengeful Shoshanna Dreyfus. There’s also a quietly psychopathic Nazi doctor and the equally sadistic SS officer, played wonderfully by Pilou Asbæk.
Overlord offers these standard tropes in abundance, which can detract from narratives (even those of the B-movie strain), but Avery keeps the film ticking over with some grotesquely effective set pieces. Beyond the impressive opening and closing scenes that bookend the somewhat bogged down middle, Overlord impresses stylistically with its video game aesthetic. The exploration of the catacombs beneath the church unveil clues as to what the Nazis are cooking up as well as laying down the blueprints for the inevitable, but well-executed shootout between the Americans and the Germans at the film’s denouement.
Overlord is certainly a film that takes the good with the bad. It’s silly, but stylistic. Clumsy, but gratuitously grim. And during the season where narrative and plotting is absolutely key, Overlord trips over itself a little bit. But it more than delivers on action and gore.