At one time rumored to be a part of the Cloverfield universe, Overlord is decidedly not. Co-written by Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, The Hunger Games) and Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), and directed by Julius Avery, Overlord is both a war and horror film. On the surface, this is a surprising mash up of genres, but once you see this feature in all of its “gory” you’ll realize the combination is apt.

Starring Jovan Adepo (Fences), Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Gianny Taufer, Pilou Asbæk, Iain De Caestecker and Dominic Applewhite, Overlord takes places during World War II on the eve of D-Day. A group of soldiers are sent in behind enemy lines to destroy a German radio tower, but they soon discover something more sinister and gruesome. Being severely outnumbered, what was already an against-all-odds mission becomes a desperate and imperative attempt at saving the world from potentially Germany’s most dangerous weapon.

I don’t want to just give away what this weapon is because much of Overlord’s early tension comes from that (I believe, though, most will be able to guess what’s going on). What’s worth discussing is the almost seamless transition from war story to horror story with a third act that does an excellent job of combining the two. Overlord starts off strong – U.S. troops are being flown into enemy territory but meet major resistance. Soldiers preparing to parachute are killed while their transport planes are destroyed by a barrage of gunfire and explosions. It’s quite the site and would fit right in with Spielberg’s epic prologue in Saving Private Ryan.

The prologue sets film’s tone, but as things progress there is a shift that adds the anticipated horror element to the established excitement and tension. That’s when Boyce (Adepo), Ford (Russell), Tibbet (Magaro) and Chase (De Caestecker) are hiding from the Germans and planning their next move, aided by a civilian named Chloe (Ollivier). The horror is hinted at while they’re staying at Chloe’s home – Boyce takes a peek at her “sick” aunt whose heavy breathing sounds quite abnormal. Boyce’s discovery places audiences on high alert things are about to get crazy.

Julius Avery presents an entertaining film that’s both good and scary. He did a great job of shifting gears, using strong judgment to alternate genres and tones. Avery also did great job of slowing things down just enough to establish and then build tension, and followed that up with violent action scenes. It’s a tough juggling act that Avery handles well, and with it he provides enough WTF moments that suggest this should’ve been released on Halloween.

Its release date is a minor (and personal) gripe, especially since Overlord is good. What’s more important is the handling of how Overlord plays into Adolf Hitler’s idea of creating the perfect race. While millions of Jews were being slaughtered, Hitler’s scientists were creating with the intent to destroy (an oxymoron if ever there was one). I love its themes, mainly because I never expected Overlord to have any. So this impressive multi-genre story has some substance to complement its entertainment value.

So with racial tensions at all time high, Overlord is a sliver of historical fiction that helps viewers realize the horror and ridiculousness of desiring a pure and perfect race. No one is perfect (it’s trite, I know, but still so fitting), so let’s not try to rid one race from the planet because another race deems them inferior. At the same time, let’s not create a perfect race – it’s unethical and mocks science and nature. But thanks to Overlord it’s fun (and scary) to see someone try.

4 stars out of 5

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