What do you get when you toss Wolfenstein, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Saving Private Ryan and possibly the most blatant amounts of historical inaccuracy into a blender? You get a feverishly insane, ridiculously ultraviolent, revisionist war horror, schlock-fest that is Overlord. It could easily be dismissed as exactly the kind of unapologetically gruesome and tasteless B-movie pulp that a 14 year-old version of me would call a ‘masterpiece’. But in an era where most action productions are shackled to grand executive franchise aspirations, a schlocky revisionist war film about horrific Nazi experimentation with a simple beginning and an end and no loose ends to be tied up in a sequel or big-budget franchise feels like a breath of fresh air.
The film is set during the backdrop of D-Day landings in Normandy as an Allied platoon led by Corporeal Ford (played by Wyatt Russell) prepares to strike at a secret Nazi radio tower in order to clear the skies for air support. After they were shot down by enemy forces, they made their way to a small German-occupied French village that held their target and met a young French woman (played by Mathilde Ollivier) and her brother who are held captive in their own homes by German forces. But what this platoon wasn’t prepared for was that their mission would be compromised by their discovery of a sickeningly grim secret held by the Nazis: The resurrection of dead soldiers into immortal super-human Nazi zombies, all in the name of science!
With a premise like this in mind, any pretence of this film being a historically valid representation of the D-Day landings is immediately tossed to the wayside in favour of a gloriously gruesome and adrenaline-pumping thriller that wears its tacky B-movie absurdism like a badge of pride. A notably fictitious and video game-like deviation from the more accurate representations of WWII in other recent productions, such as Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. Personally, I can’t help but admire the film for that. It’s by no means ambitious or particularly innovative, but for what it sets out to do, it did so with flying shades of gloriously bloody crimson.
However, I find it unfortunate that a fundamentally escapist horror war film like this was released in the midst of this rabid political era. Given that the film’s fundamental message is simply the classic anti-war screed against Nazism, modern trends will inevitably ascribe a deeper political meaning to the film, more so now than in an otherwise less politically-insane period. One could identify these current political trends through the film’s embarrassingly topical undertones, which include having a protagonist that happens to be a black US soldier set during a fictitious version of WWII where Nazis/Fascists are portrayed as irredeemably evil mad scientists that resurrect the dead. In another time period, these motifs would feel like simple, Saturday-night comic book pulp. But in our modern era which is dominated by an era of interconnected movie franchises and sensationalist political melodrama, Overlord might as well be as relevant a statement of modern culture now as Schindler’s List was back in 1993.