Film Review: Overlord (R18+, USA) is a thrilling WWII action horror mashup

What do you get when you take a World War II action movie and smash it together with some monster horror Nazi-sploitation? You get the wild, bloody, gory ride that is Overlord. A film that has clearly defined good guys, bad guys, a hefty dose of patriotism and some reanimated super powered super soldiers to boot. It sounds a bit ludicrous but it actually works.

We first meet Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a young man who only 3 months earlier was mowing lawns but ends up drafted to go to France. He is way in over his head, a gentle soul described by a comrade as too timid to kill a mouse. The senior officer Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) has only one thing on his mind, their mission, which is to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a small village that is hindering Allied Forces communication. Immediately we know that these two are going to struggle to get along, but dangerous times force them, along with Bronx loudmouth Tibbet (John Magaro) and war correspondent Chase (Iain De Caestecker) to work together.

Australian director Julius Avery (Son Of A Gun) opens the film with us in the air, riding along with the paratroopers as they make their leap into German occupied France. The first 10 minutes is nothing short of white knuckle explosive tumble-dryer like hectic action. It almost leaves you gasping for air, just like Boyce as he attempts to avoid drowning after crashing into a river. Our screenplay by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and Mark L Smith (The Revenant) has our small contingent of soldiers make their way into town, aided by French freedom fighter Chloe (Mathilde Olivier), here we become immersed in the war component as we inch ever so closer to understanding more about the awful goings-on in the town. It’s a slow creeping dread, that things are definitely not right. And for Boyce, a bungled reconnaissance attempt results in him discovering that SS Officer Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) along with a group of Nazi doctors have been experimenting on the local townsfolk and captured soldiers. The results of which are horrifying and alarming and all hell is about to break out.

Our cast is made up of a couple of familiar faces, you might recognise the son of Kurt Russell and star of Goon: Last Of The Enforcers, or Game of Thrones’ Euron Greyjoy, or Agents Of Shield’s Leo Fitz, and even an appearance by Bokeem Woodbine as a shouty Army sergeant. But the rest of the young cast is relatively unknown, and there are strong performances from both Adepo and Olivier in particular. Whilst Magaro gets almost all the comedic lines with his interactions with Chloe’s kid brother played by Gianny Tuafer. Asbaek gets to ham it up as the deliciously villainous Wafner and it’s a guarantee that you will love to hate him.

The story keeps it tight, focusing on our rag-tag heroes and besides the obvious mission objective and the accidentally finding some creepy underground lab, there’s the camaraderie and patriotism woven into its emotional core. Obviously it plays things verrrrrry loose with historical accuracy, but the notion of human experimentation during war-time isn’t that far fetched. And while some of those laboratory scenes are not for the squeamish, the practical effects and stunt work make for some creepy re-animated super soldiers. It does struggle a little in that it never really sets up its own world rules regarding its monsters, nor gives them a chance to really make a bigger impression. But there’s enough jump scares and suspense building to satisfy.

Avery, along with J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot producing the feature have crafted a film that is almost split down the middle, with one half being a war movie, the other a horror. But somehow the stitching of the two together is almost seamless in its transition. And it blends the freshness of an independent film and its young relatively unknown cast with the production values of a larger blockbuster type picture. Something Bad Robot has been adept at doing, by making small films feel much bigger than they are. This particularly works well as the film leans into some of its more comedic horror moments, and almost first-person-shooter type vibe but it never totally embraces a B-grade shlocky or campy vibe. The score by fellow Australian Jed Kurzel is also chilling and raucous in all the right places.

Overlord is a hectic action packed thrill ride of a war movie, but also gets to play with some horror elements. Mashing together two genres that wouldn’t normally go but somehow end up complimenting each other. He did the mash, the moooonster mash!

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Overlord is out in Australian cinemas from December 6th 2018 through Paramount Pictures Australia