Director Julius Avery's Overlord promised to deliver an action/horror set within the terrors of World War II. However, the story by Billy Ray, while delivering a fun film well worth seeing, is likely to disappoint the modern hardcore horror fans that the film's marketing seemed catered to.
On the evening before D-Day, American paratroopers drop into France in order to take out a critical radio tower. Among them is Boyce (Jovan Adepo), who was recently drafted into the airborne division and has trouble fitting in with the veteran warriors. When very few survive to carry out the strike, he finds himself tethered to the mission commander, Ford (Wyatt Russell). They finally make it to the village with the help of Frenchwoman Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) but discover there is far more to the site than command knew. Faced with the mounting horror of what the Nazis are developing, the group must find a way to complete their mission of destroying the tower, while also ending the experimentation regardless of the cost.
It is clear that director and scripter are fans of the classic B-movie, and they do a great deal to honor that genre while modernizing the sensation. The script moves along at a steady pace and stands out in comparison to cross-genre films. Unlike the average story, Overlord does not start out as one thing and then flip to horror in a moment, but instead weaves the horror into the war story in a very organic way as the movie progresses. It does suffer slightly in the final twenty minutes with scripting that seems rushed, predictable, and almost cartoonish. By this point, the rest of the film has done such a fine job that it does not excessively diminish the overall enjoyment factor.
Most of the characters are the pieces you would expect in something honoring B-movies, so through that lens, it works. Through a modern lens, several of them are likely to be seen as stereotypes. All of the actors play them well without going over the top, with the exception of Pilou Asbæk as Wafner, who gleefully plays both versions of his role with just the right amount of excessiveness. Adepo does exceptionally well as a person undergoing an evolution of character and values. The transitions never seem abrupt, but instead paced perfectly. Both actor and director knew exactly what to do to accomplish this.
The cinematography is wonderful, never too light and never too dark. And though there are a couple of very frenzied scenes with the camera bouncing about in a schizophrenic manner, they work perfectly for the setting. The music helps with this in these moments, but there are a few other scenes where it falters and fails to align with the action.
The special makeup works, in another nod to less-than-classic classics, and the film does not overly rely on gore or jump scares top make its point. The creepiness of what is going on, and the way that is presented, is the concentration of the horror.
Overlord, while not delivering what the advertisements seem to promise, is still a great couple of hours of entertainment that does not have to depend on being gross or gory to succeed. Instead, it goes to the roots (or at least the low trunk) of the genre, finds a place to settle in, and then grows a few branches of plausibility that other B-grade films lack.