TAILGATE (a.k.a. Bumperkleef) **** Netherlands 2019 Dir: Lodewijk Crijns. 82 mins
Willem de Wolf, as the ominously named Ed, is a memorably nondescript psychopath in this intense Dutch riff on the daylight road terrorisation of DUEL, with a dash of its nightmarish native cousin THE VANISHING. Clad in an office shirt and sensible jumper, he’s a disarmingly boring-looking middle-aged antagonist who, in the very first sequence, pursues and kills a cyclist in his van.
Subsequently, we meet a stressed out family whose time on the road is miserable even before they encounter Ed. Dad Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) is consumed by petty bickering with wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer), which rubs off on their two young daughters (Roosemarjin van der Hoek, Liz Vergeer) who fight over a tablet in the back. On a journey (to Hans’ elderly parents) that no one relishes, they are all put in needless danger thanks to Hans’ stubborn macho bravado as he pointlessly tries to one-up a guy showing off in a faster car. His mood soured, Hans picks the wrong white van man to tailgate in the fast lane, and a tense cat-and-mouse game follows.
Although we root for the (authentically terrified) kids and wife, TAILGATE boldly makes the short-fused, angsty Hans unlikeable, with Spitzenberger nailing the fragile white male ego of the classic Volvo-driving Dad, whose refusal to apologise to the not-unreasonable Ed threatens his entire family. It’s a suspenseful, nimbly paced thriller about a fraying family unable to agree about anything, even when their lives depend on it. The vehicular stunts are great, with a hair-raising drive through suburbia, and the villain’s weapon of choice (a pest-control spray administering nasty burns) is uniquely unpleasant. De Wolf is an intimidating presence and director Crijns isn’t shy of putting kids and vulnerable old people in peril.
Review by Steven West