Every now and then, a particularly ferocious type of thriller comes along that knocks everyone for six; even the most weathered horror fan struggles to play dumb. The sort of film that’s so densely drenched in dread that it leaves you jumping, barking, screaming along with the characters and begging for some level of respite, that you just know will likely never come. Enter Dutch nerve-shredder Tailgate, a road-rage movie on a mission to make sure you never look at a white van in the same way again.
Also known by the even catchier Bumperkleef in its native Netherlands, Lodewijk Crijns’ thriller kicks off a bit like Spielberg’s Duel, with extra oomph. Hyper-macho family man Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) picks a fight where he probably shouldn’t, but the result is far from a casual fender-bender, when the wronged party (Willem de Wolf’s ‘Ed’) doesn’t just give chase, but starts to full-on hunt both Hans and his warring family.
Armed with a terrifying arsenal of poison and an unrelenting thirst for social justice, Tailgate’s bad guy is one for the ages. A seemingly average-looking everyman with a particularly stern approach to manners, he could be your dad, or your uncle, or your ever-so-slightly surly neighbour.
After all, it’s Ed’s mild indifference to the murderous rage within him that ultimately makes him so unnerving. He’s not Russell Crowe’s bulky truck driving psycho from Unhinged, or John Goodman’s more quietly domineering Howard from 10 Cloverfield Lane. There’s something much colder and more mechanical at play here; like a Terminator not designed directly to kill, but one that just sort of ended up turning to it anyway. He’s ruthless in every sense of the word; Ed is the kind of villain who seeps into the background of every frame, even the ones he and his white van aren’t buried in. You’ll see him everywhere.
Which makes for one hell of a second and third act. Once things get going, they frankly never stop, and it’s almost impossible not to be screeching and squealing along with the family of leads, as Spitzenberger’s Hans seemingly makes awful decision after awful decision. Even when his wife (Anniek Pheifer’s positively sick-of-this-shit Diana) takes the wheel, Hans still won’t relent and very literally dominates. Because on top of being an A-class thrill-ride of a road-rage movie, Tailgate has a very astute argument around masculinity at its core too.
Realistically, it is one we’ve seen before, and for generations now; the family man in crisis when his command is threatened is nothing new at all. But whether it’s Spitzenberger’s bravely gross performance, or the truly relentless nature of the film’s plotting that makes him even more beautifully unbearable to watch, Tailgate manages to cover what at least feels like new ground.
Even with a seasoned history of similar thrillers behind it, Crijns’ film stands out as a remarkable watch; a punchy, fierce, unstoppable few hours of incredibly tightly-wound family drama, thrown through a positively dread-inducing kaleidoscope of vehicular mayhem. It really is a force of nature, and one that’ll leave you checking your rear-view mirror for weeks.