26th October 2020 (UK VOD Premiere)
A cocksure, road-raging family man finds himself pursued and terrorized by the vengeful van driver he chooses to tailgate.
Jeroen Spitzenberger, Anniek Pheifer, Roosmarijn van der Hoek
One of the reasons I hesitate to learn how to drive is the complete lack of control I have over other road users.
The thought of myself being a potentially perfect driver, staying within speed limits, reading road signs correctly and keeping my car in good condition only to have an accident due to the reckless actions of another driver puts me off the concept of commanding a vehicle at all. Films like Tailgate (or the unintentionally hilarious sounding Bumperkleef in its native Dutch) do my fears no favours whatsoever.
While driving his family to his mother’s house for the weekend, arrogant motorist Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) gets impatient when stuck behind a white van. Already dangerously surpassing the speed limit, Hans’ careless driving results in a near-miss collision between him and law-abiding Ed – and a few offensive hand gestures from the family man.
But when refuelling at a service station, the recipient of Hans’ insults makes a pit-stop to demand an apology. Still believing he was not in the wrong, Hans shuns the middle-aged man, setting in motion a chain of events that will have the group fleeing for their lives from an unrelenting Ed.
If the plot sounds awfully familiar, that’s because, well, it is. 2020’s Unhinged is a similar fender-bending fare, but it’s far from being the only film of its ilk. The vehicular vengeance subgenre dates back to at least the early 1970’s with Steven Spielberg’s Duel. But there’s also the likes of Paul Walker CB-Radio rage thriller Roadkill (later renamed to Joy Ride), the taut Kurt Russell 1997 picture Breakdown and to a lesser extent, given the full on horror treatment with the set up in 2001’s Jeepers Creepers. There are plenty more, I’m sure, but the point is Tailgate isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, rather give its tyre a healthy re-treading. Fortunately, it results in a familiar yet gripping ride.
The success of Tailgate is largely down to the antagonist, Ed. Where Unhinged features a maniacal and completely spontaneous outbursts of graphic violence from a terrifying Russel Crowe, Tailgate‘s bad guy stalks his victims with an unsettlingly calculated approach. Ed is methodical and calmly systematic in his assaults. Favouring a chemical spray gun as a weapon – not forgetting to stop and protect himself by suiting up in apron and mask – Ed’s influence appears to be Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from the Coen Brothers’ quietly devastating crime drama No Country For Old Men. He’s played brilliantly by Willem de Wolf, an unassuming man who looks like he’d struggle to cut the turkey at Christmas dinner, never mind overpower the much younger and fitter Hans. But there’s one key scene, shot even, in Tailgate to keep an eye on which suggests Ed may not be as weak as he looks.
But what of the victims? It’s hard to say they don’t deserve what’s coming to them. Hans is a particularly repellent figure whose petulant ways were bound to get him in trouble eventually. His wife is a little more tolerable, but there really aren’t a lot of redeeming qualities about this couple. On the plus side, their quarrelling before being put on a crash course with Ed does raise a few chuckles. Their two girls don’t get off lightly either. I should probably feel a little guilty about this, but their incessant crying and whining really begins to grate. I completely understand why they’re blubbing, as would I if I was being chased by a madman with a chemical spray gun with no reservations on using it against me, but still. I found myself wishing he’d be successful in spraying them pretty quickly.
Tailgate‘s thrill tank does run dry once the family leave the car and arrive at Hans’ mother’s house and its conclusion is thoroughly unsatisfying given what came before it, but overall it’s a pacey and diverting jaunt which you shouldn’t let pass you by.
Excellent, ice-cold villain
Similar to 2020's Unhinged, but its antagonist is more calculated, systematic and organised unlike Crowe's spontaneous rage-filled outbursts.
Inherently unlikeable lead in Hans
Whiney children (understandable, but still)
Flat tyre of an ending