Review: Overlord, an exhilarating horror ride that pays homage to The Thing

American actor Wyatt Russell plays the character of Ford, a veteran hardened to mercy, in the film Overlord.
American actor Wyatt Russell plays the character of Ford, a veteran hardened to mercy, in the film Overlord.PHOTO: UIP

REVIEW / HORROR-ACTION

OVERLORD (M18)

110 minutes/now showing/4 stars

The story: There was a time when horror was not just about witches, or the devil and his minions, when fans uttered - and still do, with a wistful sigh - the holy names of the masters of all that was gloopy, ghastly and found firmly on this plane of existence: David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi and John Carpenter.

In this exhilarating and suitably gory homage to Carpenter's The Thing (1982), Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981) and Cronenberg's The Fly (1986), the Allied invasion of Europe pits a small American unit against an army of Germans imbued with something more than just National Socialist zeal: the dead or nearly dead that Nazi science has brought back, reinvigorated, unkillable and more than capable of tearing Americans apart with their bare hands.

This project relies on intimate encounters that put viewers close to the grisly stuff, but only after careful character-driven plotting that places people right where they ought to be, instead of where it is convenient for them to either become heroes or victims.

Relative newcomer Julius Avery might be the director here, but J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, 2009; Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015) and his Bad Robot production company incubated the movie before placing it in Avery's hands.

The Abrams touch, and his "I love the '80s" vibe, is all here: There is a vulnerable hero in Jovan Adepo's soldier, Boyce, a kid who has to fix his soul before rising to save the day; his mirror image, Ford (Wyatt Russell), a veteran hardened to mercy; one memorable, fully-fleshed villain in German officer Wafner, played by Danish actor Pilou Asbaek and an ensemble of supporting players that includes women and kids.

The action moves from a sky exploding with shrapnel, to a claustrophobic room before moving on to the third-act showdown.

That climax, thankfully, is not a cacophonous digital-effects battle. In keeping with the spirit of the film, the combat is small-scale and personal, but is not any less gripping for it.