The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Overlord is one seriously messed-up movie. The first ten minutes are as intense as anything you'll see this year. A paratrooper squad flies over Nazi Germany, only to have the plane shot by enemy forces, causing it to catch fire. The men scramble to jump out. In a dazzling unbroken shot, we tumble with one of them as he falls from the sky, bullets and exploding aircraft filling the space behind him. From there, the film goes to increasingly outrageous places as it melds a traditional WWII drama with extreme horror. That unpredictable nature makes Overlord kind of enthralling.

The mission involves blowing up a radio tower at a church. Two of the soldiers are more central to the story than the others. Pvt. Boyce (Fences star Jovan Adepo) is young and scared, but also deeply moral. Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell) is much more of a "get the job done at any cost" person. They are sheltered by a young French woman, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who is routinely visited by Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), a sadistic Nazi officer seeking sexual favors in exchange for safety. Eventually, Boyce makes his way inside the church, where he discovers that Wafner and his cohorts are engaging in some incredibly disturbing experiments on the locals. Let's stop right there to avoid spoilers.

The first half of Overlord sets up the scenario. We follow Boyce and Ford as they hide in Chloe's attic, plotting their next move. The threat of Wafner is established. Although not quite as unrelentingly fearsome, he has shades of Hans Landa, the SS colonel Christoph Waltz so memorably played in Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. He gets a perverse thrill from holding his power over others. Suspense is generated as Boyce stumbles upon the lab where unspeakable things are taking place. The first images of the experiment's victims create a sense of shock, and we eagerly await a clearer explanation of what has happened to them. All of it plays into our knowledge of how deeply evil the Nazis were and the kinds of atrocities they were capable of.

The second half segues nicely into full-on horror. Wafner's goal is in no way realistic, although it certainly puts a fantastical spin on something the Nazis actually were preoccupied with. Overlord pulls no punches. It provides gruesomely violent sights, a few decent moments that make you jump, and a second unbroken shot showing Boyce trying to escape death that is at least as amazing as the one that opens the picture.

Director Julius Avery has a knack for creating scare and action beats that pack a real punch. His cinematographers, Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner, give the film a grimy look that accentuates the dark things that occur within the story. Adepo and Russell jointly make their characters mirrors of each other, ensuring scenes between them have an undercurrent of tension.

Those are all normal pluses. The abnormal appeal of Overlord is the way it uses Nazi Germany as the setting for a body-horror tale. Anyone who has studied the Holocaust knows that the Nazis engaged in mind-blowingly inhumane acts. The movie asks us to consider what could have happened had they been able to apply that pure evil to something that, if actually possible, would have amounted to a revolutionary scientific breakthrough. That gives the story a dark appeal. At times, you want to look away, yet you simply can't.

Overlord would have benefited from a bit more character development and a slightly greater examination of the implications of Wafner's scheme. As it stands, though, the film moves like a rocket, sweeping you up in the first minute and then plunging you into a hell-within-a-hell for the remainder of its running time. No other recent horror movie offers anything like it.

( out of four)

Overlord is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing images, language, and brief sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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