The Tank2.5 Stars
- Scott Walker
- Luciane Buchanan, Matt Whelan, Zara Nausbaum, Regina Hegemann, Jack Barry, Holly Shervey
- 100 min.
- Release Date
The Tank is a movie about the monsters living under the creaky old house. When struggling California pet store owners Jules (Luciane Buchanan) and Ben (Matthew Whelan) learn they’ve inherited a substantial piece of coastline property in Oregon following the death of Ben’s mother, it seems like their financial woes have been resolved. So they trek up the coast with their daughter Reia (Zara Nausbaum) and family dog Archie to see what they’ve been left, discovering a boarded-up house covered in vines. The house looks promising but needs some work; however, the acres of coastline property are worth a pretty penny—even in the late 1970s, when the movie takes place. Still, newspaper clippings around the house suggest the area comes with a curse, spurred by a local legend about mysterious disappearances in the area. Ben’s father and sister, too, went missing before he was born. Doubtlessly, the family secrets have something to do with the old tank, which, connected to a system of caves, delivers fresh spring water to the house.
A creature feature by New Zealand writer-director-producer Scott Walker (The Frozen Ground, 2013), The Tank is a juicy rendezvous with guy-in-a-suit monsters and gory practical effects. Unfortunately, Walker’s script is a by-the-numbers scenario, accented with clunky dialogue sold by the affable leads, Buchanan and Whelan. Watching the film, there’s something off about their delivery. It’s unclear whether their voices were entirely ADRed or if the actors delivered their lines with awkward English accents, but something seems not right throughout. Regardless, Buchanan stands out as a presence that commands this feature. Shooting in New Zealand and working with a local cast and crew, the movie’s Oregon setting seems commercially motivated to reach American markets. But a New Zealand cultural backdrop may have added some much-needed personality to these proceedings, and the shoreline shown throughout looks more like a primal jungle than forests along the West Coast.
The first two-thirds of The Tank build tension effectively enough, aside from a few bumps along the way. Walker establishes a mystery around the deaths of Ben’s father and sister, the answers to which reside in his mother’s diary. While Jules reads her late mother-in-law’s inner thoughts about a “dark sadness,” this leads to some overwrought, blue-hued, slow-motion flashback sequences that appear haphazardly throughout the movie, lending faux gravitas. Meanwhile, Walker drops unsubtle hints of things to come: When, early on, Jules explains to Reia that an axolotl at their pet shop will “hunt on land” if taken out of the water, surely this is foreshadowing (though mostly inaccurate). Likewise, Walker introduces Chekov’s shed stocked with ammonium nitrate on the inherited property, promising an explosive scene later. To be sure, once Ben turns on the water pipes, he awakens a nest of blind, cave-dwelling creatures that start small but soon grow to a massive size (think salaMANder), using the forest that surrounds the house as hunting grounds.
Walker’s approach to this juicy setup has plenty of antecedents. Universal’s classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and the Roger Corman-produced Humanoids from the Deep (1980) come to mind. For his monster design, Walker smartly inverts something lovable into something horrible—he turns everyone’s favorite meme-worthy amphibian into a horrific, oily creature with sharp teeth and a vaginal inner mouth, rendered with convincing practical effects. Scenes where Jules and Ben find themselves chest-deep in tank water, staring down an eyeless, subterranean creature that disappears below the surface, prove downright terrifying. Later, when Jules must rescue Reia from the monsters’ underground lair using a makeshift flamethrower, it’s modeled after Ripley saving Newt in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). The allusionism throughout The Tank is sometimes distracting but not enough to rob the movie of its simple pleasures.
Although the story makes much out of the family secrets angle, The Tank doesn’t build this aspect of the story well enough to land an emotional blow or impart an intriguing mystery. But Walker delivers gooey creatures and monster movie scares to spare. The visuals by cinematographer Aaron Morton keep the action clear in the many nighttime sequences set in the dark forest, rundown house, or underground tank, whereas the editing team often betrays spatial logic to create momentum and tension. This is never worse than the climax, which proves so visually confused that I was left with questions. For instance, we hear the family dog barking but never quite register his location in the escape, leaving this friend to animals more concerned about Archie than the human survivors. Along with a sense that this family resolved none of their conflicts and the threat remains on their property, The Tank left this critic unfulfilled, even on basic B-movie terms. Even so, there’s enough to be savored in Walker’s modest, hand-crafted execution to earn a mild recommendation as late-night fare.