Review: 'Overlord' Shocks and Awes With Its Wartime Monster Mayhem

Over the last 15 years, horror fans have grown accustomed to checking out a new sequel in a well-known franchise every October, often forcing potentially less successful efforts to wait until November to attempt to court audiences. In the case of Bad Robot's Overlord, waiting for excitement around more familiar brands to die down before unleashing itself in theaters might have been the right move, as this riveting and ambitious thriller can be appreciated for the one-of-a-kind experience it is, whose successes deserve to ignite a franchise of its own.

On the eve of D-Day, a squad of American soldiers attempts to infiltrate a small town in France in hopes of making the massive war effort possible. As you can imagine, this mission doesn't go entirely to plan, forcing the soldiers to improvise a new strategy. These new plans result in discovering that it isn't merely one nation that could potentially be at risk if the Nazis achieve their efforts, but all of mankind for generations to come.

When fans first witnessed our first teases of the film, we were delivered a complicated narrative within the constraints of trailers and teasers. These first glimpses at the ambitious film immediately perplexed audiences, as it appeared to be a cliche horror film focusing on Nazi zombies. Between movies, comic books, and video games, the idea of blending Nazis with zombies may have once felt original, yet has grown redundant in recent years. Luckily, Overlord's approach to delivering audiences not only a horror movie, but also a war drama, delivers viewers a gripping experience.

The first half of the film effectively delivers a familiar story of Americans behind lines, with a squad made up all the archetypes you need to make up a platoon. From the timid Boyce (Jovan Adepo) to the arrogant Tibbet (John Magaro) to the mysterious Ford (Wyatt Russell), the film delivers a familiar dynamic, with all the performers doing their best to honor war epics of decades past. Once the soldiers meet Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), the dynamic changes, putting the team on the defensive, and keeping the audiences on their toes.

The introduction of Wafner (Pilou Asbæk) brings about a new kind of monster, both in his villainous portrayal of a Nazi offer and in the ultimate reveal of the horrors the Nazis are concocting. Before the reveal of the monsters, Overlord is a fully immersive war thriller, populated by charming characters. Director Julius Avery offers new and horrifyingly perspectives of war, with an opening sequence that feels like he's launching the viewer into battle. From there, Avery's intimate exploration of this squad of colorful characters rivals the connections viewers might have felt to their favorite Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers characters.

Before the war narrative runs out of steam, the discovery of the unspeakable horrors brings a surprisingly mature and eloquent exploration of gruesome concepts. Call of Duty has made the "Nazi monsters" concept feel far less novel than it once was, but the ambiguity of their origins and effectively gut-churning visuals make the concept feel fresh here.

Tonally, Avery strikes the perfect balance between a respectful exploration of soldiers in a warzone and an exploitative "B" movie without ever feeling like manipulated the audiences for a cheap laugh. Understandably, the mere concept of the film is one that could cause laughs among certain crowds, but his respect for audiences ensures that audiences only ever laugh with the characters, and never at them.

Between the wartime narrative and discovery of monsters, viewers are essentially given two movies with Overlord. While this can be seen as a positive, the pacing of the film could lead to an overwhelming experience for audiences. Once the film feels like it's losing steam and you feel like you may have wandered into the wrong movie, monsters arrive and reinvigorate not only your interests, but also the film's energy. While the film is shy of two hours, the assault on your senses makes it an overwhelming and, at times, exhausting experience.

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In the wake of films like The Nun and Halloween continuing on familiar legacies, Overlord will reignite your enthusiasm in genre film and remind you that there are still filmmakers out there who are more interested in offering audiences fresh stories instead of merely offering new chapters in stagnated series. Overlord makes good on familiar concepts, but delivers an exciting new approach to a World War II-based genre film full of tension, humor, and bone-shattering action.

Rating: 4 out of 5