Documentary Releases: Tread (2020) - Reviewed

Somewhere between the vivid imagination of George Miller with the rumination on burgeoning madness pioneered by Werner Herzog is the new theatrically and on-demand released documentary film Tread.  Embodying the true essence of the catchphrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ with one of the most bizarre true stories ever caught on camera, Tread tells the larger than life true story of Martin Heemeyer, a Granby, Colorado resident who waged a one-man war on his town the likes of which have never been seen before or since. 

Considered by many to be a likable and level-headed businessman who operated his own welding shop, things however took a turn for Heemeyer when a 2001 zoning ordinance coupled with a myriad of his own paranoid misgivings about the townsfolk ‘out to get’ him depleted Heemeyer of his finances.  Not one to go away quietly, in 2004 Heemeyer holed himself up in his shop with a large tractor only to reemerge days later sealed inside a super-tractor of his invention with intentions to bring the town to its knees in a showdown between himself, local police and the national guard who all fail to bring a stop to the man’s rampage.

One of those stories so far fetched that it’s hard to believe it actually happened, Tread presents a docudrama of sorts comprised of interviews both new and archival with a handful of taped audio recordings left behind by Heemeyer chronicling his descent into insanity.  Listening to the rambling, unreliable narrator telling his side of the story provides enough mania to make Timothy Treadwell blush and paints a picture of a man slowly withdrawing from the real world.  Partly how the documentary succeeds in portraying Heemeyer for the madman he was is by allowing Heemeyer to tell his side of the story first before the subsequent interviews of those on his ‘hitlist’ all but debunk the man’s claims of victimization.

Shot in 2.35:1 widescreen, Tread features many dramatizations of that fateful day with well-staged reenactments of key moments in the saga leading up to the rampage.  Visually it works fine and is handsomely photographed but nothing compares to footage of the real event in question coupled with photographs chronicling the unfolding disaster.  What’s particularly frightening about this tale of one man who is mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore is the ease with which Heemeyer was able to completely level his town with no one, not even the National Guard, able to take him down. 

A swan dive into madness, Tread is the kind of story that has to be seen to be believed.  While playing out like a very real Mad Max movie with the super-tractor built for destruction, the authentic footage of the real event constantly reminds this bizarre story science-fiction authors would be proud of did in fact happen.  Much like those involved in the story who provide enough of their side of the argument to dispel any notions Heemeyer was a sane individual, Tread leaves the viewer as confused as the subjects still wondering just what the Hell happened that day and how one man’s paranoia combined with his talent for welding produced a mechanical monster that nearly brought an entire town to it’s knees.  Like the old saying goes, you cannot make this stuff up!

--Andrew Kotwicki