As is often the case here at NRD, it all started with a trailer. I saw the trailer for the Ben Wheatley-produced Tank 432 (aka: Belly of the Bulldog) way back in May. I’m a fan of Wheatley’s brand of indie art house horror/weirdness for the most part (as you may have read), and Tank 432 looked like it fit that description. Assuming that his producer role means that he endorses the film (and I do know the dangers of assuming but I can’t seem to help myself), I was on-board and looking forward to it. Well, lo and behold the film shows up at Fantasia (International Film Festival) 2016. Which, I’m covering remotely! Nice.
A small team of mercenaries with two orange=jumpsuited and black-hooded prisoners in tow emerge from a heavily wooded area a half-step ahead of their enemy pursuers. The enemy hasn’t been seen per se, but they heard them coming. They head straight to a farm/granary/rural building place (i don’t know. i live in the city), seeking a vehicle to get them the hell out of there. They find a late model Jeep Cherokee and load their injured comrade into the back. Turns out the Jeep is less than driveable and the only other thing of significance they find there is a girl locked in a shipping container. Oh, and a pile of headless mercenaries and their two headless prisoners (also dressed in the same Abu Ghraib uniform). That’s weird because that merc team was behind them. How’d they get here and headless so fast?! No time to ruminate on it, the enemy is back. And they can see them this time. There’s also no time to drag the injured dude in the Jeep out of the hotzone, so he’s on his own. The rest of the crew high-tail it out of there. They find shelter in an abandoned “bulldog” tank. But will it be their salvation or a deathtrap?
Tank 432 is a solid little thriller. The mercenaries’ traumas and perils are believable and the viewer is quickly immersed in their plight. That plight is mysterious but evident right from the beginning, as the story starts right in the middle of the action. With the men – and one woman – in a scrape, defending themselves from the (at first) unseen enemy. What scarier enemy is there than an unseen one? When the soldiers do catch glimpses of the enemy, they are distant and strike an unnatural silhouette, adding to the mystery and pushing the mercs toward full-on panic. Showing the enemy as weird-looking, distant beings taps into the fear of the not-quite-right that everyone has experienced at some point. The viewer is put on edge just enough to question whether or not the team is facing down a real enemy, an imagined one, or a supernatural one. That tension is maintained through much of the film’s runtime. Unfortunately, it’s not maintained through ALL of the film’s runtime. There are great moments of supreme tension and doom – the hard-to-identify *pings* resounding through the tank that the mercs assume is the result of bullets hitting the machine (** means onomatopoeia, right?); the unexplainable and eerie sirens; the glimpses of monstrous visages through the view ports – but there are also lags in the action and tension that disjoint the film. Is real combat peppered with moments of boredom? Probably. But Tank 432 handles these moments clumsily (a few too many naps makes the story timeline not-in-a-good-way confusing) and fails to maintain the mood set by the characters themselves. Namely, the “Shit! We need to figure out a way out of here! We’re safe now but we’re sitting ducks!” mood. (paraphrasing) That’s not to say that the film suffers too badly from that flaw. I’m sticking by my “solid” assessment (see above). However, it may have been better than solid if it were 20 minutes shorter or so.
The Final Cut: Tank 432 is a solid little genre thriller. It has some great moments of high tension and terror but could have benefited from trimming some moments of battle boredom (however true-to-life that may be).