The last decade has seen a surge of “Nazi horror” movies that struck enough of a chord to kick-start a subgenre. Most are risible and bypassed big screens to debut on DVD, prior to perishing in pound store video bins, but there are a few gems amongst the twaddle. Dead Snow 2: Red Vs Dead is a subgenre standout and one of a small fistful to feature the Nazi undead. Along with the lesser likes of War of the Dead, Frankenstein’s Army and Outpost, these utilised our fear/hatred of Nazism to shape a new supernatural antagonist.
Overlord is the latest Nazi horror and one of very few to make it into cinemas. Following his impressive, criminally under-seen debut Son of a Gun, director Julius Avery, with screenwriters Billy Ray, Mark L Smith and producer JJ Abrams give Nazi horror a bigger budget/ creative bolstering with enthralling results; for Overlord is a frenzied, hyperbolic sense annihilator that starts fast, burns slow then re-ignites as a retina searing sucker-punch.
The story (by Billy Ray) follows a band of American paratroopers led by Wyatt Russell’s Ford, who, on the day before D-Day, land behind enemy lines in a Nazi occupied France. The team then infiltrate a small town church turned Nazi base in order to destroy a mast, but when doing so, uncover a terrifying threat within the walls of this once holy sanctuary.
From the outset, Overlord shakes, elates, violates and re-sets the bar for barnstorming war action. The set-up tinkers into masterpiece with breathtaking action, harried camerawork and arresting, style-amped visuals which reverberate like Predator and The Raid if produced by Marvel. Character clashes coil into conundrums as conflicts erupt within tighter, tenser moments involving a local resident Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), her young son and an attentive psycho Nazi, Wafner (Pilou Asbæk).
The story then slows slightly and briefly threatens to derail due to its teasing of detail to seem more mysterious, but cranky characters and vibrant dialogue kill time enough to retain entertainment, before the script flits back into the bullet laden, blood-spraying, brain flaying, troop slaying war horror that will leave viewers blown away and battle scarred but blissfully exhilarated.
Dazzling action and gut-wrenching thrills dot Overlord like landmines set to detonate. The hyper-violent, high voltage, possibly supernatural war horror teases and seethes then reignites with fervour, demonstrating a proclivity for action panache. The acting inflates into histrionic but is fitting for the fantasy action context, and the cast demonstrate greater range when it counts count: smaller, dramatic/ suspense scenes and high drama moments.
While not quite as raw and provocative as Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS or as slick and explicitly supernatural as Michael Mann’s The Keep, Overlord’s exuberant nature derives from the bat-shit central concept and Avery’s wild eyed enthusiasm for heightened action. As events unfurl, tension and terror escalate tenfold to take Overlord to an exhilarated zenith. At which point it will leave you satisfied and disorientated while feeling like you’re bleeding from every orifice in your face and war laden brain.