It’s hard not to watch a documentary like Tread and consider the socio-political connotations that the movie is perpetuating. Of course, that’s the case with a real life tragedy like that which beset the small Colorado town in the infamous “Killdozer” incident in 2004.
The spectacle was caused by a rampage by a local aggrieved muffler mechanic who sought revenge on locals businesses that had done him wrong by coating a bulldozer in steal and concrete and then proceeding to drive the monstrosity through town square destroying private properties before taking his own life.
The man’s name was Marvin Heemeijer and his personal rampage has taken on quite the mythic stature in some online communities. Many consider his actions to be an act of vigilante justice against an oppressive local government that ought to destroy several small businesses for petty reasons. Many anarchists and libertarians see his actions as being fully justified.
Naturally, such situations are complicated. Tread goes miles out of its way to capture the full human drama of the situation by exploring the larger picture of the individuals involved. While it presents Marvin’s audio recordings, it also presents testimonies of the people that Marvin felt aggravated by.
Hearing their stories, there’s a lot of he-said-she-said in the story that muddles the fundamental narrative of Marvin’s radicalization. The film more or less takes the side of the victims of Marvin’s rampage and suggests that nobody on the ground though Marvin was a dangerous person until the day he went on a rampage of destruction. The implication is that he never tried to resolve his frustration or take chances that would’ve resolved his problems right away and instead set himself up for financial and personal problems.
I can imagine for people who like Heemeijer’s act of vigilante justice that the film in question will come off as overtly propagandistic. At times, the film downplays the circumstances of his motivations while caricaturing Marvin as a Bible thumping, paranoid, conspiracy minded, gun fetishist. The edit picks some choice images to make him look like he was radicalized by quietly editing photos Bill O’Reilly books he was reading in the foreground. Towards the end of the film, the reenactment even shows him shaving his head to look like a skinhead.
The movie also downplays elements of the story such as his fiancee’s (supposed) affair that likely had a hand in his breakdown.
At times, it’s hard to tell if the movie is overtly trying to defang the cult fandom Marvin has accumulated or merely trying to inject complexity into the story. I can’t tell fully either way but I can say that Tread at least does a decent job is fully exploring the “Killdozer” tragedy and fully humanizing its entire cast of people.
Tread fully dramatizes elements of the narrative that weren’t captured on camera and the full recreation of the Killdozer rampage fully shows just how brutal and scary of a situation it must’ve been on the ground. The idea of a near impenetrable tank driving down the street of a small Colorado town and devastating small businesses is scary and the re-enactments highlight moments of terror such as when he started charging individuals or opened fire on police and pedestrians.
Regardless if you love or hate the man, it’s worth watching the film just to engage with the ideas it’s putting forward.