In the opening of the Dutch thriller Tailgate (2019; aka Bumperkleef), we are introduced to a cyclist being hounded by a white van driven by the mysterious Ed (Willem de Wolf), who remains calm and methodical despite letting his prey escape across an empty patch of grassland. The two reunite when the cyclist crashes into the van, leaving Ed time to don his exterminator’s outfit and pump up his weapon of choice: a sprayer for weed killing.
The opening establishes the kind of threat that Ed is, giving him the type of presence that would evoke the silent killers of many slasher films, and a unique gimmick to boot. But once the opening scene ends, Tailgate veers into a completely different type of horror. Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) and his family are rushing to make the trip to his parents home for his father’s birthday. On the way, we get a sense of our lead as someone who is under stress, leading him to act impulsively and with anger. These behaviors culminate with Hans ‘tailgating’ Ed hoping to pass by and speed up the trip on the freeway. Meeting at a gas station soon after, the two argue over Hans’ actions on the road, neither of them relenting on their perspective of the situation. This leads to Ed pursuing Hans and his family, hoping to enact vengeance for what he believes to be grave misgivings.
While the two male leads seem to differ in their ideals, there are similarities that the film aims to ponder if Hans is at fault for the danger he puts on himself and his family. The introduction where we see Hans pressure his wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer) and daughters Milou (Roosmarijn van der Hoek) and Robine (Liz Vergeer) establishes that he is struggling with some form of masculine dominance, as his orders seem to fall on deaf ears. This leads to him acting on his frustrations on the road and wanting to deal with the Ed situation on his own, not letting the police help or telling his parents what is going on. Ed also has this sense of superiority where he believes that the tailgating slight and a lack of apology is worthy of death. We are not given much about him, yet his judgement on parentage can be considered some sort of character development. Whether it is enough motivation to justify his actions is up for debate.
Writer/director Lodewijk Crijns works a well worn premise of a chase caused by road rage into a tight eighty-six minute film, yet the plotting can make it seem like the runtime goes by longer than that. While the early parts of the chase provide some worthwhile tension, there are often long breaks in between those sections that stops the pacing dead and leaves little time to bring the audience back into a sense of fear. Because of how the rest of the film functions, the tone set by the opening might come off as disingenuous. It establishes our stalker Ed as a man who is easily capable of murder, yet the cyclist is the only real victim in the film, with the rest of our cast being left quite unharmed. The third act turns off of the road chase and becomes more of a home invasion type of thriller, only to just end with little interaction from our main leads than we were led to expect. That choice is worth applauding, since there is this nihilistic dread that comes from the overall randomness of the stalker’s actions on this family, but the execution leaves much to be desired.
The performances in the film were solid for the material they were given. Jeroen Spitzenberger is given the most screen time, allowing us to see the degradation of Hans’ psyche when the chase drives him mad with paranoia, making the audience both sympathize and despise him for what his actions cause his family to go through. Willem de Wolf is quite understated, never really breaking from a stoic demeanor, which I think works great for the type of character Ed is. The family does a decent job functioning as the catalyst of Hans’ behavior, and offering some small moments that add to their development.
With a better script, it would be easy to recommend Tailgate, as the technical aspects of the film are very well done, providing more suspense through the visuals and sounds than the plot provides. Functioning more as a cautionary tale of overt masculinity leading to actions that have dire consequences, some might find that type of allegory worth the price of admission while others might perceive the lack of violence and gore a detriment that is not easy to recover from.
Tailgate premieres in select theaters and on VOD July 30, 2021
For more information, visit: Tailgate