Docudramas are documentaries that reenact, as historically as possible, real events that the movie, or show, is about. The much-loved film Three Identical Strangers is one very recent example of this style of filmmaking. They are sometimes referred to as “recreation docs,” though I feel this term is a misnomer, as there is typically new interviews and material surrounding the recreated moments. Paul Solet, the director of the eerie Grace (not to be confused with the also phenomenal Grace: The Possession), throws his hat into the docudrama arena with Tread.
Marvin Heemeyer moved to Grand Lake, Colorado in the early 1990s. He purchased some land in nearby Granby during a foreclosure auction. Heemeyer turned the warehouses already on the 2-acre property into a muffler shop, as he was a fantastic welder. He made quite a few friends in the area, including those who came to be called the Thursday Crew. They were a close-knit bunch who went snowmobiling every Thursday morning.
While several people took to the generous and fun-loving Heemeyer, he did have some issues with some folks around the Grand Lake-Granby area. The Thompson family is considered akin to royalty in the area, since their grandfather, however many greats removed, bought several plots of land when he first got there. Not only does the family still hold most of the property but they own a few thriving companies there as well.
“…drove the bulldozer, which he basically transformed into a tank, out of the building it was housed in and went on a rampage.”
At the auction where Heemeyer acquired the property for $50,000, a friend of the Thompsons Corey Docheff was also intensely bidding for that parcel of land. After he lost, Docheff walked up to Heemeyer and “tongue lashed” the stranger for undermining him. Once the muffler shop got up and running, the city council, on which two or three of the Thompsons serve, started implementing strict rules about how Heemeyer had to connect to the water and sewage. Failure to do this, led to steep fines and the county clerk would not initially accept Heemeyer’s check. Docheff was able to buy property right across the street and was going to build a concrete factory there. Heemeyer was concerned about the health of the nearby residents due to the dust and debris such a place would create. He protested, but the factory was ultimately approved.
Heemeyer dealt with their unfair practices as long as he could and hired a lawyer. The case got thrown out of court though. After this setback, Marvin Heemeyer had a vision from God. He bought a bulldozer at an auction, sold off most of his land, and spent several months retrofitting the machine with reinforced steel and adding a gun turret. Then on June 4, 2004, he drove the bulldozer, which he basically transformed into a tank, out of the building it was housed in and went on a rampage.
He first took out the concrete factory, then headed for the town hall, the home of the Thompsons, and then to the local store Gambles; owned by a member of the city council. The local police tried fruitlessly to stop the intimidating machine and help from nearby townships and cities was called in. The tank’s treads eventually got stuck in the basement of one of the buildings, which coincided with damage to the bulldozer’s radiator causing it to sputter. Heemeyer took his life once he stopped he got trapped; miraculously, he was the only person killed during the attack.
The rampage made international news, though it was overshadowed by the death of Ronald Reagan the next day. If the story uses familiar, aside from faint memories of the report while it was happening, this horrifying incident was the springboard for the Russian narrative film Leviathan. Solet uses the audio recordings Heemeyer left behind to understand the man’s point of view. The recreations of events he describes are intercut with friends about what a nice man he was, and how poorly the city council and others treated him. The recreations, most of which are Heemeyer making the tank, are spliced throughout the film and are shot like a horror movie.
“…the auction where Heemeyer acquired the property for $50,000, a friend of the Thompsons Corey Docheff was also intensely bidding…”
However, because of the focus on Heemeyer’s tapes, allowing his voice to tell his story, there is a lot of focus on each perceived wrong. The movie is slow to start as most of the stories about how Marvin Heemeyer came to dislike Person A are repetitious. Roughly 30 minutes in though, it is revealed that Heemeyer’s stories are exactly that; made up fiction to fuel a vendetta he was harboring over not getting his way. Several witnesses dispute Heemeyer’s claims that Docheff yelled at him after the auction. The water/ sewage hook up is standard procedure, and the council was very lenient in the timeframe they gave Heemeyer to do so.
This reveal of how things actually happened is terrific and is when Tread finally springs to life. Along with painting a fuller picture of the town and its citizens, a clearer idea of the true Heemeyer, who believed God chose him to go on his rampage, is shown. A picture of Heemeyer with a big smile in the woods somewhere is shown a few times early on. As the truth comes forward, the bottom half of the photo is displayed. Heemeyer’s holding a gun. It is chilling to imagine what he might’ve done in a confrontation with the others on the trip if they angered him.
The actual attack on the town is a mix of recreation footage, news footage, recordings from the time, and interviews of the citizens’ memories of the traumatic experience. It is a gripping and intense thing to watch a cop climb atop the vehicle only to discover no port of entry. The town ultimately decided to melt down and scrap every piece of the monstrosity that forever altered their lives.
Paul Solet’s Tread takes a little while to grab the audience; however, once the stakes are fully understood, it becomes quite intense. Plus, the way it plays with audience sympathy is genius, making for an involving watch.
Tread (2019) Directed by Paul Solet. Written by Paul Solet. Starring Marvin Heemeyer, Cody Docheff, John Bauldree, Bill Owens, Rod Moore, Glen Trainor.
8 out of 10 Mufflers