Set 24 hours before D-Day, a company of American GIs crash behind enemy lines. Their mission: to ensure a successful Allied invasion by destroying an enemy communications tower. Along the way, they discover that some pesky Nazis are shockingly misbehaving by developing super-soldier serum and creating jacked-up zombies. Or as one sadistic Mengele stand-in says: “The thousand-year Reich needs thousand-year soldiers.”

Initial reports suggested that this JJ Abrams-produced and Julius Avery-directed film was asecret entry in the Cloverfield series; disappointingly, it’s not and therefore won’t washaway the bitter taste left by this year’s The Cloverfield Paradox. However, the trade-off is that it discards any constrictions linked to the ongoing portmanteau series and delivers a war-horror hybrid that makes up in brash thrills what it lacks in originality.

The nerve-jangling opening sequence features some stunning effects as the paratroopers nosedive into Normandy, and announces from the get-go that the CGI budget wasn’t lacking. Following their crash landing, the film spends a significant amount of time as an unexpectedly realistic war movie (a realism which doesn’t extend to certain historical accuracies regarding the segregation of American troops). This is a little confounding given that the film was heavily marketed as a zombie horror film set in WWII as opposed to a WWII film that eventually features the undead. It’s hardly a bad thing, but there is a definite sigh of relief when the bloated middle segment veers into horror territory. From then on, it embraces – for better or worse – a video game narrative structure with some impressive levels of nastiness. And be warned, they don’t skimp on the gore: wriggling spines, squirm-inducing facial wounds, giant amniotic pouches – a gorehound’s delight.

As the film progresses, it becomes hard to shake the feeling that Overlord wants it both ways, hoping to be a gory B-movie with the appropriately tropey character and dialogue trimmings while also taking itself seriously as a glossily-made war film. Its big budget and slick visuals set it apart from other war-themed splatterfests like Dead Snow, Outpost and Blood Creek, and its refusal to acknowledge its own outlandish absurdity diminishes its campallure. But there’s a wanton enthusiasm here that is infectious and buttressed by Jed Kurzel’s lively score, as well as Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner’s cinematography. So, while it overtly pilfers from familiar sources ranging from Re-Animator to Inglourious BasterdsOverlord ultimately makes good on its promise to deliver loud, dumb and violent fun.

Overlord | Directed by Julius Avery (US, 2018), with Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier. Starts November 8

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