Given that Overlord’s set-up of “small team of paratroopers find Nazi monster factory in a tiny French village on the eve of D-Day” sounds like the starting point for a ridiculous if highly entertaining video game, it’s quite startling to see just how seriously everyone involved is taking it. That’s no bad thing necessarily, but after a thrilling, action-packed opening, viewers expecting the fairground ride sold by the trailers should instead settle in for something a little more po-faced until the creatures are unleashed.
The squad, led by the taciturn Ford (Wyatt Russell, delivering Kurt-levels of morally ambiguous intensity), is dropped behind enemy lines to take out a vital radio tower, but when Boyce (The Leftovers’ Jovan Adepo) discovers that there’s something terrifying and supernatural afoot, the nature of their mission will change drastically.
For the first hour or so, director Julius Avery (Son Of A Gun) focuses all his attention on making a convincing war movie. The performances are mostly strong (newcomer Mathilde Olivier is particularly good as a local with a personal stake in the fight), the effects are great and there’s an unexpected commitment to character and realism, but he can’t quite keep the sense of wheel-spinning at bay. However, once Nazi commander Wafner (Pilou Asbaek) shows his cards and Boyce uncovers what’s really going, things do finally kick into gear.
Bloodthirsty audiences craving some outlandish gore will be very happy as we see the effects of the mysterious substance the villains have been injecting into the hapless locals, and bones snap, faces are shredded, and howling mutants do their thing, and Asbaek is gloriously ghoulish as the villain.
As you might expect, however, the problem is balance. Avery and the writers make it work for the most part but it takes itself so seriously that some of the more outlandish moments in the final third, including the grand finale, can’t help but feel a little exposed. Still, it’s great to see a genre movie on this scale that’s so ambitious, and it’s an intense, entertaining, if slightly wobbly, slice of gory Friday night fun.