Tank 432: Promising psychological horror film that succumbs to its own cleverness

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It’s a Horror Show!

Octavio Ramos Jr. is a lifelong fan of all things horror. In his teens, he began to write reviews of horror movies. Since college, he has been writing fiction in the horror genre, as well as writing reviews and commentary on every facet of horror for magazines such as Video Vista, The Zone, Horrorshow, and Albuquerque Horror Examiner. Contact him for movie reviews and interviews at octavio_christine_ramos@msn.com.

By Octavio Ramos Jr.

This 2015 psychological horror flick was originally titled Belly of the Bulldog, a more apt title than Tank 432, as most of the story takes place in the confines of not a tank but a British Armored Personnel Carrier known as the Bulldog (FV432 Mk. 3). Despite a promising opening and an intriguing mystery, Tank 432 succumbs to its own cleverness by promising too much and delivering too little. Fans of puzzle-driven horror flicks (early entries of the Cube franchise come to mind) will have a good time coming up with theories about the movie’s underlying theme, but those wanting to sit back and enjoy a psychological horror flick (say, something like Jacob’s Ladder or Sixth Sense, both of which provide enough storyline to unravel their twists and themes) are likely to be disappointed.

The movie opens with two mercenaries, Reeves (Rupert Evans, known for his performance in Hellboy and the revamped television series Charmed) and medic Karlsson (Deidre Mullins of The Frankenstein Chronicles, among others), fighting off an unidentified adversary as they make their way back to the rest of their squad. Led by quirky Smith (Gordon Kennedy, channeling his experience as a rugby coach), the rest of the squad consists of Capper (Michael Smiley), whose leg is wounded, wound-tight Mr. Ganz (Steve Garry, who has a lot of fun with his role), and wide-eyed and paranoid Evans (Tom Meeten), who is blamed for both Capper’s wound and the squad’s current predicament. Along with the squad are two female subjects, both dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods. Both women are tied to a rope handled by Smith.

Now reunited, the squad moves through the forest, with Smith sending Reeves ahead to recon a farm in the distance. Reeves reports back that the farm seems abandoned and that there is a vehicle they perhaps can use for transportation. Smith agrees and orders the mercenaries to move forward. However, not everything is as it seems. Along the way, all the soldiers note the presence of a bright orange powder about the farm, with lots of it seemingly stored in some huge silos. Reeves is the first to inhale this mysterious agent, which causes him to vomit. When Evans attempts to hotwire a vehicle next to the silos and storage bins, he finds something gruesome under the hood (probably a decapitated head), which has jammed the engine. Karlsson sedates Evans to calm him while the others explore the farm, finding colleagues they refer to as “Group D,” as well as two supposed captives (they are dressed in orange jumpsuits). All of them have been decapitated. Once again, the orange powder makes its appearance, with most of the decapitated bodies having traces of it on their clothes.

As the mercenaries hustle back to the vehicle, they hear child-like music coming from one of the huge storage bins. Inside, they find a young woman in a state of shock. Karlsson sedates her while Reeves attempts to understand the papers and posters on the wall. Before Reeves can get his bearings, he hears an enemy flare wiz through the sky. Reuniting with the rest of the squad, the group decides to leave by foot, in the process abandoning Capper, who has been placed inside the decommissioned vehicle. As the squad leaves, it is implied that all the storage bins have people in them.

As the squad, now burdened with two hostages (Smith calls the duo “cargo”) and the sedated girl (played by Alex March), begins to make their way into a forest, which in turn leads to a second clearing. The squad spots an armored personnel carrier (APC) in the distance, so the members decide to make their way to it. However, several of the soldiers again see a strange figure lurking by the APC. This odd figure is dressed in a hazmat suit, complete with hood and breathing apparatus. However, the hood seems to be a physical part of the figure, with huge teeth wrapped around the breathing tube.

Believing the figure is one of the many who is pursuing them, the soldiers and their civilian counterparts throw out the APC’s cargo and jump into the vehicle’s rear compartment. As the soldiers clear out the cargo, one of the women stabs Gantz and manages to escape, running into the clearing. It is then up to Reeves to shoot her down.

The bulk of the film then takes place inside the claustrophobic APC, as the mercenaries soon discover that its rear hatch is supposedly jammed and its top hatch has been welded shut. While inside the APC, the soldiers discover strange bottles of an orange powder labeled “Kratos,” which the remaining “cargo” identifies as a Greek word for “strength and power.” Evans continues to claim he is in great pain from his leg wound, so Karlsson continues to inject him with painkillers.

While Gantz works on trying to start up the APC (and take a dump in an awkward and gross sequence), the people in the rear hatch start to get on each other’s nerves. Particularly annoying is Smith’s penchant for writing constantly in a little black notebook. When Gantz says he cannot start the engine, Reeves volunteers to give it a shot.

While Reeves is in the driving compartment, he takes a moment to check on the dog tags of a dead soldier that Gantz stowed away. It turns out the tags have the name “Evans” on them. It is the same Evans that is alive and well in the rear compartment. Reeves manages to start the APC, but his elation is short-lived, as he must confront a very much alive Capper returns, taunting the trapped people in the APC.

While Reeves works on the engine, Karlsson finds an attaché with several folders in it. The folders contain dossiers of all the squad members—many of the papers discuss doses of Kratos administered to them. Karlsson realizes that there may be a link between these records and the data recorded in Smith’s black book. An argument ensues, with the remaining hostage using a flare gun to set Smith’s face on fire. All hell breaks loose, with Smith firing blindly and Karlsson shooting the hostage. As Karlsson dies, she verifies that Smith has been recording doses of Kratos administered to the squad. When he inspects her medical bag, she finds that everything in it is made of Kratos, not the medications she believed she was administering previously.

Reeves eventually runs over a hysterical Capper, leaving him the sole survivor. With Kratos residue all over his fingertips, Reeves begin to succumb to the agent. The APC is then surrounded by men in hazmat suits, as well as one man dressed in business attire. It is this man that orders that the APC be destroyed with a flamethrower. This man states that the experiment was successful and that the agent “worked.”

The film’s coda has a new experiment taking place, his time with a soldier emerging from the underground through a white box, his upper lip lined with the now signature orange powder.

Although there are no overt explanations for the themes in Tank 432, it is likely that the story is about a private company creating and testing a new type of drug that can heal injuries quickly but also has the effect of creating hallucinations and paranoia. This concept is not new, having been explored in various movies, notably George Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies, which featured the biological weapon codenamed Trixie. Another notable influence is Adrian Lyne’s 1990 movie Jacob’s Ladder, which hints that the members of a platoon suffer from bizarre hallucinations as a result of exposure to an agent during the Vietnam conflict.

The principal frustration with Tank 432 is that writer-director Nick Gillespie tries too hard to be clever, making his audience work to unravel the undercurrent story behind the plot. Sadly, there simply is too little for anyone to unravel the story, with the movie producing frustration.

On the plus side of the movie is using the APC as the principal setting for the movie. This type of setup has worked well (Night of the Living Dead, with its house setting), and the resultant claustrophobia works well, but it is during these sequences that Gillespie should have put more information about the experiment and its purpose so that the audience can figure it out before the characters supposedly do. This type of mystery revelation is what makes so many mystery movies and television shows successful, but it fails it Tank 432.

Although the story is flawed, the direction and acting are good, as are the special effect sequences. As for the movie’s title, it too is a puzzle. If you think about it, the title could refer to the self-destruction of the mercenary squad, with the numbers serving as the end countdown.

Give Tank 432 a shot. If anything, it will give you a mystery to work out, and for that alone it should make for a satisfying experience. Those who like to sit back and enjoy a story should avoid at all costs, as this movie will produce exasperation and disappointment.