A group of bedraggled soldiers on manoeuvres in no-man’s-land, find themselves confronted with an unseen enemy seemingly intent on picking them off, one by one. In desperation they – along with two female hostages whom they’ve picked up along the way – take refuge in an abandoned army tank. It’s only once they’re trapped inside the vehicle with no apparent way out, that they discover there’s something much worse inside with them, than anything they could have come up against out in the open.
Sometimes after watching a film, you’re left with an underlying sense of concern. Not for the fact that what you’ve just sat through may in any way be damaging to your long term mental wellbeing – though this perhaps should be more worrying considering some of the material out there. It’s more due to the fact that films which other people have raved about, or which have involved highly regarded filmmakers in their production, leave you cold or with a feeling of, so what? TANK 432 (2015) is a case-in-point. It’s not to say that this military based horror written and directed by Nick Gillespie, and on which cinematic wunderkind Ben Wheatley acts as executive producer, hasn’t got good elements – in fact there are parts which, under different circumstances, may have made for quite a disturbing little chiller. Here however, it feels like they’ve been wasted, as in the end their effectiveness is diluted overall by a film which drags on for much longer than it should.
Based on a short story the premise here is basic – the slow mental and social breakdown of a group of soldiers and their hostages who take refuge in an abandoned military tank, from an unknown adversary on the outside. As such there might have been the material for a tight and effective hour long television drama, but simply not enough to warrant it being stretched out for a film running to almost an hour and a half. You could also argue that there is really nothing here which would disqualify it from being shown in a television format. Often those behind productions – particularly those with an horrific vibe – veer towards big screen film presentations, as they feel they’ll have more freedom both in visual scope and in content than they’d be allowed with something made specifically for TV. With TANK 432 however this reasoning appears unwarranted, as there is very little on display of either a graphically horrific nature, or large scale visuality.
Other than a couple of shots of a mutilated leg, a recurring theme of drug administration by syringe and a totally pointless and nauseating close-up of a member of the team relieving himself through a hole in the floor of the tank, there isn’t much here which you’d be worried about showing in a pre-watershed TV drama. An element which might warrant the production a restricted audience is its strident overuse of the ‘f’ word: I’m no prude, but surely – despite its prolific use doubtlessly being authentic in military circles – writers can come up with something more original than this archaic obscenity littering a character’s vocabulary at every given opportunity. As for the visual scope of the surroundings adding to the film’s overall feeling, since most of the action takes place within the confines of an armoured tank, it makes little difference whether the said vehicle is stationed in the surrounds of a city, an army barracks or, as here, an open field amidst acres of rolling countryside. It could be argued that this adds to the sense of isolation which permeates the film, however it ultimately feels like another element simply included to justify the production being made for the big as opposed to the small screen.
In its favour – and this is clearly one of its main aims – the film does deliver a sense of claustrophobia, mental breakdown, suspicion and fear of the unknown, as the boundaries between the characters disintegrate over the course of their confinement within the tank. These aspects however are of little compensation for what otherwise is a promising idea wasted because it thought itself bigger than the sum of its individual constituents.
Cleaver Patterson (@Cleaver68 / @ScreenAndGone)