Written and Directed by: Nick Gillespie
Starring: Rupert Evans, Steve Garry, and Deirdre Mullins
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
There's no turning back.
Ben Wheatley is among our most alienating filmmakers working today. Each one of his films has a cold, distancing effect that keeps you at arm’s length, so it’s no surprise that a film bearing his name as executive producer takes a similar approach in Tank 432. The feature debut of frequent Wheatley collaborator Nick Gillespie, this war-torn freakout attempts to mimic the former’s brand of elliptical, somewhat off-putting storytelling, but only manages to faintly capture its surface level affectations. Unfortunately for Gillespie, he’s learned the notes but not the song, so Tank 432 doesn’t sing with the same killer verve of the films he previously helped to craft alongside Wheatley.
Unfolding in the shadow of an unnamed war, the film follows a group of mercenaries tasked with capturing and delivering a couple of POWs. In the process, they stumble upon a grisly scene: eviscerated bodies of another squad are splayed about, b a young girl cowers in terror, having been poisoned by an unknown substance. Things go from bad to worse when they’re suddenly fired upon and sent scurrying off into the countryside into the safety of an abandoned tank. Now locked inside, the group promptly begins to lose their shit—both figuratively and literally—as they begin to suspect something more sinister than they imagined is afoot.
Tank 432 proceeds along both coyly and predictably, if that makes any sense. Gillespie’s script leaves a lot left unsaid and unexplained, including the impetus for the whole plot to begin with, at least for most of the film. We learn that one of the prisoners—who may or may not be a terrorist—was a teacher, which comes in handy when the group uncovers some mysterious vials labelled “Kratos.” Beyond that, though, not so much—the character mostly exists to deliver ominous exposition and serve as a possible threat once the film devolves into yet another paranoiac thriller where people suffer from hallucinations and yell at each other a lot.
Wheatley himself has mined general premise to great effect, but in Gillespie’s hands, it feels like a dull retread of superior movies. His film isn’t just cold and alienating—it’s blandly conceived, from the muddy, dismal color palette to the leaden pacing. Once the group crowds into the tank about 20 minutes in, Tank 432 stops dead in its tracks, as we’re treated to predictably hostile and tense interactions between the increasingly distrustful squad mates. Occasional inspired cinematic bursts—some nifty tracking shots, fleeting glimpses of the phantasmagoric masked menace stalking the group—prove that Gillespie has an eye for visuals. It’s just too bad it’s not on display often enough because he’d rather play up the stuffy, claustrophobic confines and the stewing hostility between the characters.
Not that it’s necessarily a bad choice to highlight these dingy, claustrophobic spaces, of course, and Tank 432 is sometimes genuinely unsettling in these brief moments. Less effective are the character dynamics, as this is an unremarkable set of folks, distinguished only by their ages and gender. Otherwise, they’re united in their shared love of screaming “fuck” at each other and being genuinely unpleasant. One among them (Rupert Evans) seems a tad softer than the rest, meaning he’s the obvious, de facto lead, though even he does little more than futz about and freak out too. The general lack of personality among the cast is the most obvious departure from Wheatley’s work, which are defined by outsized personalities and infectious performances.
These characters, on the other hand, drain whatever life is left from an already inert movie that falls predictably into place. The twist—if you can even call it that—is so obviously telegraphed that you can set your watch to each twist and turn, all the way down to the climactic montage that seems so assured of its own profundity, what with its sentimental musical cues. Until the end, Tank 432 trudges down the most obvious path before ending on a shot that’s robbed of any power thanks to the predictability and the lack of investment in the characters. It’s disturbing in concept, but it registers with a sense of dull, thudding familiarity—you’ve seen this ending aped many times before and in better films. The same holds true for most of Tank 432, a film that boasts Wheatley’s endorsement but doesn’t quite live up to it.
Tank 432 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory and IFC Midnight.
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