“War is Hell,” said Civil War general William Techumsah Sherman – after whom the tank is named –and his point is obvious: in times of war, man can sink to his lowest depths, spill endless amounts of blood, and commit the worst atrocities imaginable… and still believe he is righteous. Genre filmmakers have frequently adopted the “war is Hell” perspective in a much more literal way: the warfare is literally a version of Hell, and – even worse – it’s a Hell we’ve created ourselves.
Such are the thoughts that went bouncing through my head during the oddly disquieting and weirdly fascinating new UK genre concoction called Belly of the Bulldog, aka Tank 432. It’s about a dwindling platoon of battered soldiers who escape from their mysterious enemy by holing up inside a deserted, broken-down APC (aka armoured personnel carrier/aka giant tank/aka “Bulldog”) and then spend much of the movie knee-deep in confusion, paranoia, and mortal terror.
Equal parts war movie, horror story, and hard-edged Twilight Zone-style mind-bender, Belly of the Bulldog starts out in frantic fashion before settling into its central location: the painfully claustrophobic interior of an abandoned tank. At first we have no idea who the opposing combatants are, or what they’re fighting for, or why one of the soldiers is dragging two hooded captives along as the platoon tries to escape from a (seemingly supernatural) enemy – and that’s sort of what makes the film so interesting: we’re asked to piece all this chaos together as it unfolds.
Written and directed by frequent Ben Wheatley (KIll List, High Rise) collaborator Nick Gillespie, Belly of the Bulldog feels a bit like a gimmick thriller (they’re all trapped in a tank!), a wartime paranoia thriller in which one (or several) of the survivors is clearly not who s/he claims to be, and a wilfully, refreshingly surreal brain-twister that doles out its clues in very sparing fashion. On the whole, it’s an undeniably strange but oddly captivating genre film, thanks in large part to the simple-yet-mysterious setting and a solid ensemble cast that offers strong work from Rupert Evans (Hellboy), the always colourful Michael Smiley (The World’s End), and Deirdre Mullins as a medic who simply can’t keep up with all the trauma.
So while Belly of the Bulldog occasionally evokes well-known films like The Thing, Dog Soldiers, and even Das Boot, it also manages to mark its own territory as an offbeat, unpredictable, and ominously engrossing experience.
– Scott Weinberg
BELLY OF THE BULLDOG screened at the FrightFest Halloween 2015 All-Dayer and has been picked up for distribution (and retitled TANK 432) by Kaleidoscope.
Check out the trailer here.