You can think of “Overlord” as “The Dirty Dozen” by way of “28 Days Later” – that’s right, the WWII zombie apocalypse. The film starts with an imaginative bang and keeps its nose above the average even while dipping into genre tropes.

We catch up with a platoon of lads soaring above the D-Day armada heading for Omaha Beach. Their mission: Drop behind enemy lines and take out a radio tower in a medieval church or the U.S. air cover will get picked apart and the assault will fail. There’s a lot on the line. I’m not sure why there’s a few dozen planes on this mission, because stealth would make more sense, but it makes for the film’s best scene as German forces light up the approaching aircraft. The choreography, both in CGI manipulation and the goings-on with the boys inside as large-caliber bullets rip through the fuselage, amazes; cut frenetically with deafening ambient sound, it feels ripped right out of “Dunkirk.” Few make it to the ground alive (you could call it “The Dirty Half-Dozen”). After a few skirmishes with Nazi forces, the lads Boyce (Jovan Adepo); the squinty, badass explosives expert Ford (Wyatt Russell); wisecracking New York tough guy (think Joe Pesci) Tibbet (John Magaro); and a couple of other Star Trek red shirts get into the small village with the help of a comely village girl (Mathilde Ollivier). She takes them in, but what’s up with auntie’s reptilian rasping from behind closed doors?

Boyce ultimately makes it into a church basement, which is pretty much Mengele’s little shop of horrors if he was trying to engineer a zombie army of grotesque berserkers. The whole thing feels like a game of “Wolfenstein” gone 3D, but more grim. It’s here too that the film starts to sag, though there is tension added by the fact Boyce is black – no way to blend in among white supremacists (though otherwise, pretty much nothing is made of race). “Overlord” is largely Adepo’s film, and he carries it well, with both wide-eyed terror and heroic resolve. Magaro and Ollivier are also quite good in their limited stints, but Russell, filling a role akin to his father Kurt’s badass John Carpenter roles in “The Thing” and “Escape from New York,” doesn’t quite seal the deal. The part begs for more swagger. It works, but just barely, and is something of a missed opportunity for all.

The film, directed by Julius Avery, is a product of J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot company, though Abrams has stipulated adamantly that it’s not a “Cloverfield” film. The connection between those entries is arcane at best anyhow, and something of a distraction. In construct, “Overlord” is more ambitious than those films, and its production values noticeably higher; but, then again, it’s about the fate of the democratic world hanging on the resolve of a bag of mixed nuts caught up in zombie-land.


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.

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