OVERLORD movie poster | ©2018 Paramount Pictures

OVERLORD movie poster | ©2018 Paramount Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbaek, John Magaro, Iain De Caestecker, Jacob Anderson, Dominic Applewhite, Glanny Taufer, Bokeem Woodbine
Writers: Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, story by Billy Ray
Director: Julius Avery
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: November 9, 2018

OVERLORD is a new entry in the rich tradition of mixing Nazis and horror. Unlike most other entries in this often low-budget subgenre, OVERLORD is not only comparatively well-funded, but it also works throughout as a pretty good WWII combat mission movie, albeit with some super-gory twists.

We see OVERLORD mostly from the viewpoint of Private Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), who is barely out of basic training when he’s sent with his unit on a flight into occupied France just before D-Day. The squad’s objective is to take out a radio system the Germans have installed in the tower of a church in a French village. Things don’t go as planned in the air, and Boyce finds himself behind enemy lines under the command of munitions expert Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell). Ford is focused on the task and worries that the other men aren’t up to it; Boyce is taken aback by the callousness that goes with Ford’s dedication.

There’s a fair amount, all done well, of scenes we expect in a war movie. We get skirmishes, sudden deaths, Nazis terrorizing villagers, and a crucial goal for our heroes that gets more and more difficult as events unfold. Director Julius Avery and screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith, working from Ray’s story, know their way around the form, providing the satisfactions of men bonding under stress, a growing sense of purpose and ever-present danger.

However, the Nazis here are up to more than the usual wartime depredations. Under the command of Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), the German garrison is headquartered in the church. A local young woman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who decides to aid the Americans, reveals that the Nazis have been taking many of the townspeople into the church. Most disappear; others come back “sick.” We only have to hear Chloe’s aunt cough off-screen to get a notion of what this sickness is, although this is a new spin on the condition.

OVERLORD has a couple of effective jump scares, and some inventive prosthetics makeup that impresses. That impressiveness extends to the very game, energetic actors who wind up performing in those prosthetics, though to name them would be spoiling things.

Part of the fun of OVERLORD is that the horror aspect never overwhelms the mission. It provides a lot of complications, and inventively prodigious gore, but the characters never forget what they’re trying to accomplish. They don’t exactly take the bizarreness in stride, but they treat it as one more obstacle to overcome, instead of something that completely derails the original plot.

Adepo gives a thoughtful, humane performance (in a flawless American accent; he’s actually British). Russell is committed, tough and wily. Asbaek, who has shown he can play smiling hatefulness as Euron Greyjoy in GAME OF THRONES, does the same here. Ollivier has spirit and force. Other U.S. soldiers are portrayed ably by Iain De Caestecker, Jacob Anderson, Dominic Applewhite and Bokeem Woodbine. John Magaro deserves a special shout-out for epitomizing a G.I. from New York who would be perfectly at home in a movie made in the ‘40s.

Speaking of OVERLORD’s era, it’s a pleasing touch that the cast is multiracial without any onscreen comment. In reality, few military units in WWII were integrated. This one is, completely, which makes a statement. It could be argued that the movie is trying to make the Army look more enlightened than it was at the time. Then again, if we can suspend disbelief about resurrected corpses, the filmmakers seem to say, surely our imaginations can stretch far enough to encompass a past that lets the excellent Adepo take the lead here.

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