Overlord review – a unique blend of horror and war

by | 7 Nov 2018 | Film Reviews

‘On the eve of D-Day a group of American paratroopers are on a mission fighting Nazi soldiers when they stumble upon a sinister experiment.’

For his sophomore feature film, Julius Avery directs World War Two horror film Overlord (2018). Teaming up with producer J.J. Abrams, this is a unique blending of genres that are rarely put together. On the eve of D-Day, a squadron of paratroopers is sent behind enemy lines to destroy a radio transmitter in a small village church. Amongst the chaos private Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) gets split up from the rest of his squad, including corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell). When they finally make it to their target, what they discover is far worse than they imagined. Terrifying experiments involving the corpses of dead soldiers means the squad will have to do more than just destroy a radio.

With an 18 certification, Overlord is far from a shiny Hollywood depiction of World War Two. This is a dark, gritty movie full of intense action and lots of gore. It’s also missing those stereotypically heroic characters so many of these war films come with. A number of them have been changed by combat and have thrown morality out of the window. Taking more of a means-justify-the-ends approach to warfare, these are men who will do whatever it takes to complete their mission.

Avery shows this in the movie’s visual aesthetic.

There’s a real grungy and oppressive atmosphere that’s maintained throughout the runtime. That mood is only heightened by the knowledge that these men are outnumbered and in enemy territory. Committed to physical effects as much as possible, it all has a genuine look about it, and the CGI that is used is to aid rather than takeover. Filmed and shot smartly, Avery gets that smaller budget to stretch far. That goes for the set design, which helps highlight the creepy cinematography and bring a large amount of dread.

As a scary movie, this is more in the style of body horror, combined with a sprinkling of torture porn. You probably knew this going in, but Overlord will not be for the squeamish or faint of heart. Unlike many of those type of films where it all felt gratuitous and exploitative, here, it suitably fits the story and overall tone Avery is going for.

‘Not only that, but due to it being set in the Second World War, there’s a fair amount of military action as well.’

Horror and action don’t always go well together, yet Avery skilfully balances these two very opposing genres. He blends them together in a way that never undermines the other. Some of the set pieces in particular are incredibly tense. Especially that opening sequence when the troops are just about to drop into France. It’s a white knuckle ride that never lets up, with that suspense flowing back and forth from the more horror elements brilliantly.

Letting the movie down slightly is the characterisation. With a very self-contained plot, a lot of them are there as cannon fodder and to die in a horrible fashion. All the actors do well with what they’re given, but they just feel like character tropes more than three dimensional people. Many are actually dispatched very early on and all we’re left with are Adepo’s Boyce, Russell’s Ford and a few other disposable bodies. Adepo has the most defined role and is clearly the main protagonist. Having a clear arc, he does a great job in presenting this transformation from timid and fresh-faced soldier, to a more hardened private due to the experience he goes through.

Unfortunately, the same doesn’t go for the rest of the cast.

Russell is solid as the battle seasoned and callous Ford, but he has no depth added to him. A dubious backstory is alluded to but never expanded. Apart from being the counterpoint to Boyle, we know next to nothing about him. The villains of the piece likewise are highly conventional. Pilou Asbeæk looks like he’s having fun, but there’s not a lot you can do with a Nazi captain other than play them despicable and devoid of any humanity.

‘Showing the literal horrors of war, Overlord is a bloody and gruesome viewing experience from beginning to end. Doing its job of attracting the gore hounds, it likely won’t have mass appeal. This is still a well-made and original movie with a great deal to recommend it. Despite the lack of fleshed out characters, with an effective atmosphere, a unique blending of horror and war, this is a movie that deserves to be noticed.’

Film Details

18 · 1h 49m · 2018.


Action · Horror · Mystery · Sci-Fi · War.


Dominic Applewhite · Erich Redman · Jovan Adepo · Mathilde Ollivier · Pilou Asbeæk · Wyatt Russell.


Julius Avery.


Billy Ray (screenplay and story) · Mark L. Smith (screenplay).


Fabian Wagner · Laurie Rose.


Matt Evans.


Jed Kurzel.


gory images · strong bloody violence.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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