Horror/thriller from The Netherlands demonstrates that road safety means apologizing when the scary man wants you to. Great acting and very well produced, but an unfortunate message.
Tailgate (or Bumperkleef in its native Netherlands) is a tale of Hans, who dares to provoke Ed on a busy road while driving too fast and aggressively with his family on board. It’s a tale of conflict, panic, revenge, and a battle of distinctly male egos. They are a very believable family, and it’s easy to sympathize with every scream and tear. Some of the decisions are a little difficult to believe, and the antagonist – hopefully – quite an exaggerated character; but that’s OK. It’s only a film. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in real life…
Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) is clearly stressed before the car even leaves the driveway for their stay with his demanding mother. His wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer) is much more laid back, but Hans reckons she’d be in a hurry too if they were visiting her mother. Add two tweenage daughters and… well I remember what long car journeys were like as a kid, but this guy is a much more aggressive driver than my Dad was and definitely more of an alpha male towards his family, assuming authority with every sentence he speaks. But this is all show. After rudely overtaking a white van, the whole family bumps into the driver of said van at the next service station and we discover just what an inferiority complex Hans is compensating for with his attitude; an attitude that gets him and his passengers into deeper trouble as their journey progresses.
The white van man, Ed (Willem de Wolf), is perhaps an exterminator, judging from the kit he carries. A well-spoken middle-aged chap who takes manners very seriously, he is a terrifying opponent when pushed. He is the actor I’m going to remember from this film, never loses his decorum, no matter what his presence is doing to others.
Tailgate’s production is excellent. For most of the film, we are watching Hans and his family inside their car and it feels like we’re inside too, feeling every bump, swerve and brake on the congested journey. The acting and filming of the driving scenes were strong enough that my heart raced almost constantly, gripping my chair several times. Written and directed by Lodewijk Crijns, it builds up pace quickly and remains relentless throughout, with just a brief breather about halfway through. It’s impressively made and well-acted throughout.
I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy Tailgate at all, though. It was tense, sure, and peopled with real-life characters; but it was not exciting or intriguing, and I didn’t find myself caring for any of the characters (except perhaps Hans’ parents), and the main man, Hans himself, was a downright arsehole. The jumps I had during the car chases were anxious, rather than exhilarating. To be honest, I get no fun from watching two men who think they own the road waving their genitals at each other in the form of automobiles; nor any satisfaction in watching one discover his is shamefully small.
I had also watched the big American road-rage thriller, Unhinged, a few weeks ago. That was much more successful in its tone, but both had one majorly distasteful message in common: do what the angry man says. Nothing in either film makes it alright to turn out the lights with that idea in your head.