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‘Overlord’ crashes into theaters with a marvelous bang

Can’t keep calm, but do carry on

<p>“Overlord” understands how to use the familiarity of the Nazi zombie trope as fertile ground for shock and awe.&nbsp;</p>

“Overlord” understands how to use the familiarity of the Nazi zombie trope as fertile ground for shock and awe. 

“Overlord” is a painful movie to watch — specifically, the pain emanates from the chest, as the viewer’s heart desperately pounds against the ribcage. “Overlord” successfully blends the best aspects of raw war films and big-budget horror flicks, blitzing the senses with an incredible combo of pulse-pounding action and nail-biting frights.

The plot is centered around Private Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo), a young paratrooper serving in the American army during World War II. Just barely out of basic training, Boyce’s squad is tasked with infiltrating a remote village in Nazi-controlled France so that veteran explosives expert Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell) can destroy a critical enemy communications relay, thus ensuring the success of the invasion of Normandy. Little do they know that in this quiet French village they will find friends, foes and undead horrors beyond mortal imagining.

As far as plots go, its admittedly neither very original nor very complex — morally upstanding American soldiers heroically gunning down unapologetically evil Nazis has been a cinematic tradition since the actual Second World War, and zombies have been a staple of cinematic horror for almost the same length of time. But “Overlord” understands how to use that simplicity and familiarity as fertile ground for shock and awe. By focusing on a core plotline with minimal subplots, the film maintains a strong sense of pacing and control, deftly switching between slowly rising tension and violently startling surprises. But this isn’t to say that the film isn’t also capable of perfectly straightforward action assaults — the grim realities of the war, the relatively unrefined weaponry and the gory results of battle are all captured in gritty detail.

The film’s production values are exquisitely excessive. The sets are wonderfully varied and packed with detail, making each location nicely distinct and manageably easy to place in relation to each other. The special effects are gruesome, disturbing and gorgeous, enhanced by extremely competent lighting and cinematography that always entrench the audience firmly in the moment. Working behind it all is the sound design — a broad spectrum of unnerving, quiet tones and roaring, chaotic screeches, loading the film with atmosphere like a humidifier full of blood.

As awesome as the film can be, it does have its problems — mostly in its story and structuring. There’s a good deal of detail in the first half of the film that feels like foreshadowing but doesn’t lead anywhere — details that do not feel like deliberate misdirection. Despite the film’s tight focus, the core cast and their relationships feel especially underdeveloped. On the one hand, giving characters too much development would have been detrimental to the film’s sense of tension, since it might have tipped off to the audience which ones are and are not disposable. On the other hand, the film still reaches for emotional climaxes that require the audience to sympathize with or invest in the characters, a requirement that does not seem possible to fulfill at times. Overall, the lack of development leaves the story rather uncompelling — but compelling storytelling was never what the movie was aiming for anyway. “Overlord” sets out to shoot, stab and explode things until there are no more things to shoot, stab and explode — a task the film accomplishes with glorious gusto.

Reviewing “Overlord” in complete sentences feels like a complete waste of time when the movie feels best described by simply listing the singular words which it embodies — harrowing, visceral, intense, insane. “Overlord” is an absolute treat of a film, a solid recommendation for anyone looking for a more thrilling alternative to the family-oriented holiday theatre fare. It’s a head-blasting, spine-tingling, chest-ripping feature most definitely not for the faint of heart.