There is an old school creature feature vibe that ‘Overlord’ has that reminds me of the 80s film ‘Predator’ or the 90s films ‘Mimic,’ or ‘Relic.’ There’s a simplicity and straightforwardness to the plot that feels refreshing in this current cinematic landscape that is so nuanced and layered. It is not without politics, though, with an interesting storyline of the American forces joining the fray in World War II. There is something to its timing as the film is framed in such a way that it reminds us that the Americans fought the Nazis back in the 1940s. That is an inescapable correlation to what is happening today.
But ‘Overlord’ is linear and direct in its plot. American paratroopers fly over Nazi-occupied France on the event of D-Day and they must take down a broadcast tower in an occupied village to ensure the safe landing of American troops into the French coast.
But while that sounds like a simple task, director Julius Avery and screenwriters Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith do not make it easy for Private Boyce and Corporal Ford and the rest of the paratroopers, as anti-aircraft guns shoot down their plane and decimate the paratroopers, leaving them with the smallest of crews left to finish the mission.
If that wasn’t tough enough, the broadcast tower they have to bring down is in the church of a French village where a sinister experiment is being conducted beneath that introduces the paranormal element of the film. Whatever these experiments are, they are much more frightening than being stuck behind enemy lines with little manpower or supplies.
The visuals and action scenes in ‘Overlord’ are quite exceptional; a chaotic and brutal depiction of war with a brilliant opening stunt that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Avery is quite adept at introducing us to the paratroopers, most especially the kind-hearted (and definitely not suited for war) Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) and the mysterious, war-weary Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell). But they also introduce us to the rest of the crew, only to bring them down to the barest of crews in some incredibly violent ends that put the tension level very high.
The cast is relatively unknown, which adds to the tension because you have absolutely no idea where the film will take you. The danger is imminent and tangible. It’s brutal and well directed. It’s bloody and gory. And it all serves its purpose to show how war can dehumanize people, playing with the contrasting characters of Boyce and Ford. Adepo and Russell are solid leads whom you can care about and they carry you through this story of war and the darker side of science.
But while the film is not afraid to get dirty, ugly, and gruesome, it also has a lot of heart and hope scattered through it. In its utter simplicity, ‘Overlord’ is enjoyable because it’s never too gritty that the experience of it becomes a chore. It’s the basic battle between good and evil, and it’s so refreshing to just cheer for the good guys without difficulty or guilt.
My only complaint is the film’s strange narrative structure. There is a definite sense of urgency as the mission has a set time frame, but the story can be cut into three full acts that ruins the pacing. It feels like three different films all-together: the landing in France and getting to the village, the arrival at the village, and then the discovery of the experiment. These are three separate parts of the film with their own separate arcs, and it slows down the pace. It distorts time and the sense of urgency because there is so much exposition that has to be unpacked before it can resolve the main plot line.
Regardless of the pacing issue, the film is a simple and straightforward story that is told well. ‘Overlord’ is a thrill; it’s scary and suspenseful, and it’s a fun ride.