The 2018 film Overlord is a thrilling, big budget addition to the military horror genre. Set on the eve of D-Day, the film embeds the audience in a platoon of paratroopers hurtling towards their priority target deep behind German lines. The opening sequence is intense and exciting as transport craft explode in mid-air and our protagonists plummet to Earth under murderous fire. With most of the platoon lost or killed, the stragglers gather in the woods and are led to safety by Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), an intrepid French Resistance fighter. Intent on destroying a radio tower crucial for the invasion’s success, Boyce (Jovan Adepo), Ford (Wyatt Russell), Tibbett (John Magaro), and Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite) quickly discover the church housing the tower conceals a darker secret. With Americans in her attic, Chloe is visited by the menacing SS officer Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), who threatens to disappear more family members and villagers if she does not submit to his sexual advances. Boyce springs into action and saves Chloe while Ford beats and tortures Wafner for information on the target. Boyce reconnoiters the church and discovers evidence of horrible experiments involving innocent villagers. The Nazis are creating invincible super soldiers using a serum that resurrects the dead and transforms corpses into crazed berserkers. Boyce returns to the house determined to convince Ford to expand the mission to destroy the insidious lab. Wafner escapes the attic and takes Chloe’s young son to the church, but not before getting shot in the face. Wafner injects himself with multiple doses of the Dr. Schmidt’s (Erich Redmann) serum and prepares for a showdown with the American paratroopers. Armed with explosives, Boyce, Ford, and Chloe wire the lab with just minutes to spare before the Allied landings. Wafner, now even more monstrous with the serum coursing through him, is poised to disrupt the operation and kill the intruders, but a mortally wounded Ford injects himself with the serum to fight Wafner. Sacrificing himself for the mission, Ford tells Boyce to never speak of the lab to anyone and detonates the charges. Boyce, Chloe and her son straggle out of the church and meet up with Tibbett and Rosenfeld in a military hospital. When Boyce is confronted by his superiors about rumors of a top-secret lab near their target, he denies seeing anything suspicious. The liberation of Europe proceeds.
Overlord is partly a classic combat film centered on a close-knit “band of brothers” representing America’s ethnic and geographic diversity. Boyce is African-American; Rosenfeld is Jewish; Tibbett is a wise-cracking New Yorker; Ford is a mercurial and hardened soldier; and Chloe is an incredibly brave, resourceful and beautiful French woman. Together, this slapdash team of commandos take on an elite SS unit guarding a terrible secret weapon. Overlord evokes war films like Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and military horror films like The Bunker, Frankenstein’s Army, and the Outpost series. Overlord depicts war’s horror and Nazi evil independent of the Nazi zombie premise. For example, the unit’s African-American sergeant is surrounded by German soldiers and brutally executed. The next scene depicts dead paratroopers swinging from trees as if lynched, backlit by the fiery wreckage of downed aircraft.
The addition of zombie supermen escalates an already harrowing scenario for soldiers like Boyce and Rosenfeld, who quips moments before jumping into the night, “I’m a Jew. Do you know what they’re going to do to me if they catch me?” The near rape of Chloe underscores the pervasive danger facing women in war. Wafner, an already irredeemable villain, transforms into a physically monstrous manifestation of the evil he serves, celebrating his newfound powers: “The one thousand-year Reich needs one thousand-year soldiers.” While we can imagine the Nazis implementing a fiendish plan like creating zombie super soldiers, Overlord implies every nation is corruptible. Ford is an American soldier, but he is cold and instinctively violent, beating Wafner near death and demonstrating a callous disregard for both his own life and his comrades’. After injecting himself with the serum, Ford becomes as savage and uncontrollable as Wafner, but he has wherewithal to convince Boyce “no one should have this” before detonating the explosives destroying himself and any trace of the Nazi experiment. Overlord is the military horror film par excellence and an indication the normalization and universalization of the Third Reich only strengthens the farther it recedes into the past.