D: Julius Avery / 109m
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Jacob Anderson, Dominic Applewhite, Gianny Taufer, Bokeem Woodbine
The night of 5 June 1944: a squad of paratroopers have been tasked with destroying a radio mast located in the tower of a church in a small Normandy village. When their plane is shot down before they can reach the drop zone, the survivors band together in order to complete their mission. Under the command of Corporal Ford (Russell), a demolitions expert, Privates Boyce (Adepo), Tibbet (Magaro), and Chase (De Caestecker), reach the outskirts of the village, where they encounter Chloe (Ollivier). Distrustful of them at first, Chloe agrees to help them once she realises what their mission is. But there’s a problem: the church has become part of a Nazi compound, and is heavily guarded. It soon becomes clear that there’s something strange going on in the compound, something that has seen the Nazis – under the command of Wafner (Asbæk) – abduct many of the villagers, who haven’t been seen again. A visit by Wafner to Chloe’s home, and Boyce unexpectedly finding himself inside the compound, ensures the mission becomes about more than just blowing up a radio mast…
Though the above synopsis is light on detail – and deliberately so – what you can gauge from the trailer for Overlord is that this is pretty much a big budget version of all those Outpost movies we’ve been “treated” to over the last ten years; it also bears a strong resemblance to Frankenstein’s Army (2013). Whatever the inspiration for its making, though, the key question is: is it any better than those movies? Fortunately, the answer is yes. However, the script – by Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith – doesn’t push the basic storyline in any new directions, and runs out of dramatic steam once Boyce gets in and out of the compound with remarkable ease. From then on, the material plays out in entirely familiar fashion, and regular viewers of this kind of thing will be able to predict each narrative development with a minimum of effort. The characters are broadly drawn too, with Boyce at first showing fear at every turn before displaying true bravery (as we know he will), Ford the taciturn brute, Tibbet the mouthy sharpshooter, Chloe the plucky heroine, and Wafner the smarmy villain who gets a taste of his own medicine (literally). Sometimes these stereotypes can be reassuring, but here they stop the audience from engaging with anyone. Instead, they and the viewer, are stuck with going through the appropriate (e)motions.
The movie is loud and violent and glaringly obtuse at times, though punctuated by odd moments of quiet where the script attempts to provide some depth to the characters, even though it’s already too late. Avery, who provided his first feature, Son of a Gun (2014), with a rough around the edges energy that suited the material, here finds himself constrained by the demands of both the material and the requirements of making a more mainstream movie. The cast do what they can, but there’s no challenge to any of the roles, and Asbæk opts to portray Wafner as a pantomime villain almost from the off. Along the way, there’s some good practical effects work (though none of it is as shocking as might be hoped for), and one scene where a paratrooper – and then everyone else – gets a nasty “wake up” call, is splendidly staged and proves to be the movie’s highlight. But all in all it’s the movie’s lack of inventiveness that stops it from being as successful as its makers would have hoped, and which robs of it any appreciable thrills and spills.
Rating: 6/10 – despite being better than its low budget rivals, Overlord still falls into the same traps as those movies, and proves to be a modest diversion at best; once again we’re confronted with a mainstream horror movie that falls way short of its aims, and which serves as a reminder that money can’t buy everything.