Tailgate (Bumperkleef) (2019)

Tailgate first published by VODzilla.co

“Ladies, don’t pay it any mind. That man never finished high school. And now he’s getting older, his job gets taken over by younger people. At home he probably has no authority over his wife and children. So the only thing left to him is his pride. Do you understand now?” 

So says Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) to his wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer) and daughters Milou (Roosmarkin van der Hoek) and Robine (Liz Vergeer) of the stranger (Willem de Wolf) whose van the speeding Hans has just dangerously tailgated on a busy highway, and who is now insisting that Hans apologise to him, “so you can get back on the road safely.” The truth is that while Hans knows next to nothing about this stranger, it is clear that Hans’ invented description is in fact a projection of all his own worst attributes. For Hans is the archetypal toxic male – bullying, frustrated and prone to bursts of anger – and although out on the road Hans was unambiguously in the wrong, his pride simply will not allow him to admit his error and to say that he is sorry.

We, however, know rather more about the stranger. For in the prologue to writer/director Lodewijk Crijns’ Tailgate (Bumperkleef), we have already seen him in action: menacing a clearly terrified cyclist, using his van to send him flying off a country road, then methodically laying out hazard cones around his van, suiting up in protective gear, filling a canister with bug poison, and telling the injured, pleading cyclist, “The time for apologies is behind us” before forcing the lethal spray down his throat. So this tall, calm, unassuming middle-aged gentleman is a ‘pest exterminator’ in more ways than one, not only eradicating vermin from homes, but also cleaning the streets of any traffic code transgressors who cross his path. He is an unforgiving god, punishing the guilty without mercy, and meeting other men’s metaphorical toxicity with his own more literal kind. 

So half the suspense of Tailgate lies in wondering just when and how the exterminator will remove all veneer of politeness and show his violent hand to Hans – and the other half is in trying to work out just how much collateral damage the morally righteous stranger will be willing to countenance in his relentless pursuit of Hans. Is Diana in any way complicit in Hans’ frankly terrible, but hardly death-deserving behaviour? How about Trudy (Truus te Selle) and Joop (Hibert Fermin), the parents responsible for raising Hans and to whose home the family is heading to celebrate demented Joop’s 76th birthday? As the film’s vicious road games veer into the territories of  home invasion, Crijns never eases his foot on the tension, even as he creates, in the person of the dull, pedantic, meticulous stranger, a rather comically improbable brand of unstoppable killing machine. The result is a satirical psychothriller that repeatedly crosses the median strip between cat-and-rat kicks and crime-and-punishment judgement calls. If this morality fable makes any potential road rager think twice about their conduct behind the wheel, that can only be a good thing. After all, better safe than sorry. 

Summary: Lodewijk Crijns’ psychothriller is also a moral fable of traffic transgressions and unforgiving divine punishment. 

© Anton Bitel