Overlord: A Fast-Paced Historical Thriller With a Scary Twist

Jason Fehrnstrom, Opinions Editor

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This past week students and community members gathered for a Clark University Film Society screening of Overlord, a fast-paced, ravishing revisionist World War 2 movie turned nazi-zombie thriller. The film, which was released this past year, and features production credits from J.J Abrams and the directorial work of Julius Avery.

The story begins in 1944,on what is conventionally referred to as D-Day, hours before the scheduled invasion, on the beaches of Nazi Occupied France. A contingent of special task force paratroopers are dispatched into the forests of Northern France.

Their instructions are simple; destroy a radio transmitter that sits atop a fortified Nazi Church. They are told that the completion of this objective is indispensable and crucial to the success of the scheduled invasion. However, their plane is shot down miles before they reach their target and they find themselves stuck in the dense, labyrinthine forests.

In order to navigate this unfavorable, discouraging situation, the American paratroopers team up with a bold pair of French villagers who are familiar with the area. This ad-hoc group of soldiers and villagers successfully penetrate the Nazi fortifications and take down the fabled radio transmitter.

As they proceed towards their objective, the American soldiers begin to notice signs of something peculiar and sinister happening in this small, remote region. There are several villagers suffering from inexplicable, ghastly sicknesses and appear to have been experimented upon.

As they covertly scope out the Church site, their suspicions are confirmed; the Nazi’s are engaging in terrifying medical experiments. Their investigative work reveals that the Nazi’s are in the preliminary stages of developing a serum that can create a super-soldier that is impervious to most harms, including death itself.

Once again, the valiant group of soldiers and villagers embark on an action-packed, terrifying and bizarre mission to destroy this Church and all that lies within.

This film sets low expectations for itself. The “search and destroy” premise of the film is not wholly original or unique. Furthermore, the cast doesn’t boast any household name actors. Lastly, the subject matter of the film, the Allied reconquest of Normandy,  has been the subject of countless films over the decades.

Nonetheless, surprisingly, the film exceeds expectations and demonstrates that it belongs to a unique category of its own.  Both students and community members alike, found themselves to be very pleased with what ostensibly looked like a generic, mid-tier budget war thriller.

In an era where the lionshare of big-budget blockbusters are saturated with CGI that bears little to no resemblance to objective reality; Julius Avery used obscure filming locations and elaborate practical sets to render this quality of authenticity. Computer generated effects are used to portray the serum-injected super-nazi’s, however, much of the work is practical.

The techniques used to capture the story, rather than the story itself, will capture the attention of the audience first in Overlord. Certainly, it is entertaining to immerse oneself in these computer generated fantasy worlds, however, there is something authentic and organic about using practical effects and real shots.

Another noteworthy aspect of this film relates to the ability of its writers to capture and entertain the historical imagination of the audience. The types of experiments that were being conducted by the Nazis in the hypothetical film rendition bear similarity to the historic reality.

Joseph Mengele, a physician at the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, performed bizarre, disturbing medical experiments on the prisoners. The Nazis had a perennial fascination with exploring the limits of biology.

Thus, the choice to include the secret Nazi-serum as a key element of the plot structure is congruent with historical reality. It is rare to see filmmakers possess an ability to simultaneously reflect the reality and create something engaging, entertaining and fun.

The last aspect of this film that left a lasting impression was the ability of the writers to capture the moral dilemmas and complexities of war. For example, there are differing opinions within the contingent of paratroopers regarding the appropriate use of torture to extract information from the Nazis.

Moreover, there are differing opinions as to whether the contingent of paratroopers should “stay on mission,” that is, solely destroy the radio transmitter, or change course and destroy both the transmitter and the medical lab. These moral dilemmas create space for character development and add substance to a film whose primary focus is style.

Indeed, Overlord is a perfect choice for anyone looking for a exciting, fast-paced historical thriller with a scary twist!