Trapped in a tank and slowly going crazy? That’s Tank 432.
Let’s bitch it out…
There’s a mystery at the heart of Tank 432 (aka The Belly of the Bulldog) which makes it difficult to discuss without giving too much away. This British tale of a group of armed mercenaries under duress during a mission gone awry starts off in media res and accelerates from there. We are told very little about what is going on, who is threatening them, or who are the hooded prisoners in orange jumpsuits (referred to simply as “cargo”). The hows and whys are ultimately less important in the early going on; as an audience you’re asked to buy into the conflict and strap in as the group desperately seeks refuge in the woods, in a rusting grain silo and, finally, the titular tank.
This propulsive beginning is a solid way to kick off a film, but by the time the group winds up locked inside the deserted tank, the action grinds to a halt and the psychological war begins. Smith (Gordon Kennedy), the group’s leader, is more interested in writing observations in his private journal while medic Karlsson (Deidre Mullins) prefers to medicate every injury with a sedative injection (filmed lovingly by director Nick Gillespie in close-up each time the needle punctures skin). Neither of these behaviours goes unnoticed, but both are largely unremarked upon since the majority of the characters, including defacto hunky protagonist Reeves (Rupert Evans), are slowly going crazy. Is it the orange “strength and power” powder that seems to coat everything? The claustrophobic powder keg of the locked tank? Or perhaps it’s the terrifying monsters that sporadically appear on the horizon with faces that look like a cross between a pig, an alien and a gas mask?
Gillespie makes the most of a low budget, particularly the deserted, decayed exteriors. The opening of the film, as the soldiers regroup at the outskirts of a dead wood in the seeping mist is beautifully atmospheric. Similarly the aesthetic of the dilapidated grain mill and the open green field where the tank rests – both a beacon and a warning – are well shot and help to establish the world of the film, even if the audience are the only ones privy to those overhead crane shots. The characters receive no reprieve from the claustrophobic environment of the tank they’re trapped in.
As with most low-budget, locked room narratives, your enjoyment of Tank 432 depends largely on your tolerance for increasingly abrasive personalities. Problematically there’s very little character development outside of the mission parameters, so who these people are outside of uniform is largely unexplored (and even turns into a plot point relatively late in the film). As a result, some viewers may find the nearly 2/3 run time spent inside the confines of the tank something of an endurance test, particularly when the film faceplants into an unsatisfying climax followed by an abrupt conclusion that doesn’t so much provides answers as merely teases them. That’s not to say that the film’s success relies on explaining every little detail, but what few answers are provided don’t completely pay off the lengthy investment spent in the tank.
Bottom Line: Tank 432 is an interesting exercise of a film, but features too little characterization and little dramatic payoff to satisfy.
Tank 432 screens again at Fantasia Fest on July 26 at 3:15pm