(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The MovieTread

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: In the early 2000s, a man bought a bulldozer and, over the course of several months, secretly turned it into a homemade tank. Tricking it out with military grade weapons and a multi-camera viewing system so he could see where he was going, he sealed himself inside this metallic behemoth, crashed out of his warehouse door, and began wreaking havoc on the small Colorado town where he lived. Oh, by the way: this is a documentary.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: If you’re wondering, “how the hell did I never hear about this story when it was happening?”, this movie eventually gets around to explaining why that’s the case. But I have to admit that a small part of me is glad I didn’t know all the details beforehand, because it makes this documentary that much more interesting. And hoo boy, there are some fascinating details here that make this a frustrating but mesmerizing viewing experience.

Tread is all about perception, and while the impressive footage of the destruction that makes up the back half of the movie is so wild that it’s almost unbelievable, the film’s biggest asset might be the audiotape recordings of Marvin Heemeyer, the man who built this monstrosity and piloted it on that fateful day. For the first half of the film, director Paul Solet drops us into Marvin’s perspective. We listen on the tapes as Marvin explains how he moved to this small Colorado town, established a successful small business, and was systematically targeted by the locals who had been in that area for generations and didn’t take kindly to outsiders coming in and making big money. He recounts interactions with specific people in great detail, pouring on how much they hate him and the downright evil lengths they went to in order to screw him out of his hard-earned money and the right to make an honest buck.

But then, the perspective flips. Things that the film initially seemed to establish as fact become flimsy, and interviews with Marvin’s so-called persecutors paint an entirely different image of what went down between them. Suddenly, Marvin starts to look like a maniac – like the type of guy who says that God told him that the only way for him to teach these people a lesson is to strap himself into a tank and destroy their property. That perspective shift is a neat trick, and while I’m still not 100% sold that these small-town yokels are quite as aww-shucks innocent as they’re portrayed in the back half of this movie, that ultimately makes the movie even more interesting. The truth was lost somewhere along the way, but Heemeyer’s reign of terror was caught on video for posterity.

After a long build-up, the movie finally unleashes its recreation of his violent spree, splicing real footage from the day with impressively recreated CG efforts which often look startlingly authentic. Watching that footage is maddening, more than a little sad, and a head-shaking experience, leaving me with a sinking feeling that if this guy could do this without even being radicalized by the internet, then this country is likely in for several more of these insane outbursts before all is said and done.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: