OVERLORD, US, 2018. Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Aesback, John Magaro,Bokeem Woodbine. Directed by Julius Avery. 110 minutes. Rated R (High impact violence).
Overlord was the name given to the World War II mission that came to be known as De-Day, June 6th 1944 and the days after.
The first part of Overlord is a war film, opening with views of ships sailing the Atlantic, planes flying, bombardments, the voices of Churchill and Roosevelt, the atmosphere of the invasion. The action then narrows to the interior of one of the planes, troops flying to land in France, a specific mission to take out a communications tower in a church in a French village, opening the way for safer communications during the attack. The intensity of the first part of the film reminds audiences that one of the most vivid D-Day films was Stephen Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.
The men in the plane chat, are jovial, get a pep talk from the commander, one of the men, It Boyce (Jovan Adepo) nervous, ridiculed for his apprehensiveness by the others. As the men line up to parachute, the plane is hit, the men jolted, out they go, dangerous landings, Boyce parachuting into the sea, cutting himself free, through the floating parachute, on to French soil.
So, the first part of the film is a war film, anticipation of horrors.
Then the film moves into familiar territory from those old action dramas of the French Resistance, Allied troops coming into a town, seeking shelter from the locals, avoiding the presence of the Germans. While much of the action resembles those wartime films, there is a desperation because of the time limit for the achieving of the mission. There are dangers in the woods. They encounter a young woman scavenging who is able to help them avoid the Germans, taking shelter in her attic, the younger brother there, fascinated by Americans, holding his baseball and his mitt. There are also strange noises in the night, an old aunt, a glimpse of disfigurement – and the beginnings of horror.
Most audiences would be able to watch these parts of the film. But, a warning word of review is that if they don’t exit the cinema at this stage, they might soon be likely to leave in a rush. This is definitely a horror film.
It is not as if this part of the film is not familiar. The soldiers discover experimental laboratories under the church, memories of Nazi clinical human experiments. And so the tension rises, will the group be able to blow up the church tower. What will they discover? How will they deal with it? Probably a useful indication (invitation to fans, warning to non-fans) that this part of the film derives from the zombie genre.
(Overlord was received well by many of the fans, the main complaint being that there was insufficient zombie horror!).
The film has respectable antecedents, writer-producer J.J.Abrams, writer Billy Ray. It is been directed by young Australian, Julius Avery (Son of a Gun). While the film draws on the conventions of horror, fright, disgust, violence, touches of gore, there is also some humanity, especially with the portrait of Boyce, his experiences, growing confidence, decisions in the face of harsh reality. There is also a humanity in the young woman and the plight of her brother. There is viciousness on the part of the German official as well as one of those sinister, conscienceless glacial doctors.
Some raise the question as to whether this is offensive to make a film using the background of D-Day and its memories. It is a long time ago. But, if filmmakers want to combine war, occupation and Resistance, human experiments with dire consequences (a suggestion that the scientists and doctors could manipulate human beings to live at least for the thousand year Reich!), Then Overlord is successful at what it sets out to do.
Paramount Released December 6th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.