Four months into 2023 and we’ve been a little light on basic monster movies. Following up on last month’s Irish folk horror Unwelcome, writer and director Scott Walker teams up with effects house Weta Workshop to deliver The Tank. With New Zealand doubling as the Oregon coast, Walker delivers what sounds like an ode to the monster movies of the 1980s and beyond. To date, however, critics have been lukewarm on the results.
Struggling to make ends meet, Ben and Jules’ luck seemingly turns for the better out of the blue. A lawyer shows up with a property deed from Ben’s deceased mother – he’s inherited a remote property along the Oregon coast he never knew his mother owned. When they arrive at the abandoned house, family secrets – including what really happened to Ben’s father and sister years ago – slowly unravel. But the biggest family secret has been hidden away in the water tank. And Ben has mistakenly set it loose to terrorize the coast for the first time in decades.
The Tank Lacks Urgency, Feels Too Similar to Better Movies
Like a familiar comfort food, writer and director Scott Walker sticks closely to the monster movie formula. The Tank first dutifully introduces us to its family-in-peril while progressively dropping hints about family secrets. You don’t have to have seen many horror movies to know that the underground water tank likely has something bad hidden away. Things then methodically build toward a big monster reveal. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a simple and stripped down story. However, The Tank doesn’t always feel like a slow burn as much as it drags its feet. That is, Walker leaves things in a holding pattern for far too long. It doesn’t help that it rarely ever feels like our family is in any genuine danger – their survival never feels in doubt.
Where The Tank runs into bigger problems is its struggles to carve out its own identity. No, Walker’s adoption of the classic monster movie template isn’t the issue. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Moreover, there’s nothing wrong with a movie wearing its influences on its sleeve. Rather The Tank often feels like it’s parroting better movies, particularly in the third act. To a lesser extent, the underground setting implicitly recalls Neil Marshall’s The Descent. However, the parallels between The Tank and scenes from Aliens is hard to miss. And the overlap leads to inevitable comparisons that only hurt this monster movie.
The Tank Features First-Rate Creature Effects and Production Values
Most of The Tank revolves around its family-in-peril – this is definitely not a ‘body count’ movie. Both Luciane Buchanan (The Night Agent) and Matt Whelan (Narcos) are likable in their respective roles. In addition, Buchanan and Whelan share enough chemistry together to be believable as a married couple. Nevertheless, Walker’s screenplay doesn’t flesh out his main characters much beyond general expository facts. We know they’re financially struggling and that Ben’s family had secrets. Not much else in the way of depth ever emerges. And the couple’s daughter isn’t much more than a prop present to elicit some final act tension.
…The Tank’s strongest feature is the creature effects courtesy of Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop.
Not surprisingly, The Tank’s strongest feature is the creature effects courtesy of Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop. In fact, everything about the production values here is top notch. To his credit, Walker executes the creature reveal quite well taking his time giving us just enough to raise our curiosity. And the monsters are certainly impressive even if The Tank doesn’t indulge much in R-rated gore. Aside from its slimy monsters, the cinematography is impressive with a handful of gorgeous shots of New Zealand filling in for the Oregon coast. In spite of its shortcoming, there’s clearly a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera.
The Tank Never Feels Like Its Firing on All Cylinders
If you’re looking for a straightforward monster movie that evokes 80s genre sensibilities, The Tank should be mostly satisfying. As expected, any decent monster movie needs a convincing monster. Not surprisingly, Robert Taylor special effects consistently impress as Walker reveals more of the creatures. In fact, The Tank boasts impressive production values – looks good from start to finish. But Walker’s pacing lacks urgency with too little happening for chunks of time. Yet it’s the inability of Walker to distinguish his monster movie from other classic movies that keeps The Tank from firing on all cylinders. What’s here is good; it could have been much better.