Tank 432, 2016.
Directed by Nick Gillespie
Starring Rupert Evans, Deirdre Mullins, Steve Garry, Gordon Kennedy and Michael Smiley.
A group of British mercenaries transporting human cargo through the countryside come under attack from a strange enemy, forcing them to hide inside a old, abandoned tank…
After watching Tank 432 aka Belly of the Bulldog, you quickly realise why Ben Wheatley’s in vogue name as executive producer is plastered all over the promotion, as Nick Gillespie’s film very much hints at a level of quality matching that director, only to swiftly burst that bubble within the first ten minutes. Gillespie is a frequent collaborator of Wheatley’s as a camera operator, most recently on the director’s magnificent High-Rise, but on the evidence of this he doesn’t have Wheatley’s eye for the bourgeoise absurd punctuated by visceral violence.
Tank 432 has been described variously as ‘Dog Soldiers meets Jacob’s Ladder‘ and that’s giving it way more praise than it deserves, frankly; while it’s not bad in an objectionable sense, and it does aspire to a certain layer of enigma wrapped inside the ostensibly basic storytelling – rather than being curious, atmospheric and haunting, it’s loud, leaden and baffling in quite what the point of the whole endeavour is.
The premise is simple: a group of mercenaries, tooled up like British soldiers when we meet them–so you’ll be forgiven for thinking them army–are transporting two captives aka ‘cargo’ for unknown buyers through the forest countryside, when they are ambushed by unnerving ‘enemy’ forces (aka for possible budget reasons, one bloke) who stands in the distance wearing a creepy gas mask. For no apparent reason whatsoever, the group stumble upon the eponymous tank in the middle of a field, climb in, become trapped, and a psychological deterioration inside the close, smelly, seemingly non-functioning mechanical beast ensues. That probably sounds a lot more interesting than Gillespie’s film ends up being; despite the involvement of some decent and recognisable character actors, such as Gordon Kennedy (who plays the gruff, shouty unit commander) and the always excellent Michael Smiley (who, inevitably, goes a bit nuts), it goes nowhere fast and lacks any kind of vein in characterisation.
Rupert Evans is ostensibly our lead, the guy through which weird dreams and visions channel, and we see his degradation more than the rag tag mix of men and women around him, but Gillespie’s writing is so maddeningly vague and obtuse you can never either get a handle on who these people are, or why they’re doing what they’re doing. At one point Deirdre Mullins’ character screams, repeatedly, “what’s going on?” My sentiments exactly. The plot ultimately is built on a house of cards, trickery and falsehood, and Gillespie hints at a lot more going on behind the scenes of this scenario than first appears, but by the time this starts to unfurl (and by the way gives you no real answers by the end), you’ll more be bored alongside confused given it lacks the scare factor of a horror, the solid characterisation of a drama, or the visual intelligence to convince you it’s a trippy psychological journey. It wants to be all of those things, and ends up being none of them.
You get the sense there’s a genuinely creepy and interesting horror chiller lurking under Tank 432, but sadly it almost never emerges. Nick Gillespie clearly has more talent behind the camera than he does on scripting duties, and while the low budget is often apparent, he does manage to capture some neat shots and attempts to convey a certain level of tension, uncertainty and atmosphere, but it seldom truly pays off. The underdeveloped script wastes the good character actors involved, and come the bizarre ending where everyone seems to go off the deep end, after you’ve unintentionally laughed at the silliness of it all, you’ll probably be left head scratching for all the wrong reasons.
A film not half as clever as it thinks it is, which fails to achieve the aspirations it’s going for. Keep an eye on Gillespie though, because there may well be better stuff in him.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★