The intense Dutch thriller Tailgate is about an arrogant, road-raging family man who learns the hard way that following the wrong person too close on the highway can have dire consequences. While on a road trip to visit his parents, Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) fights with his wife, Diana (Anniek Pheifer). He terrifies his two little girls with his erratic driving and emotional outbursts. As they squabble about being late to dinner, Hans encounters a white van driving slowly in his lane, trapping him when he wants to go faster. He honks, and yells, and eventually passes it. They encounter the van driver at a roadside shop, a neatly dressed but menacing older man, and Hans is rude to him, suggesting he’s mentally ill and shouldn’t be driving.
What Hans doesn’t know, but we do, is that the van driver, Ed (Willem de Wolf), killed a cyclist out in the countryside for some unknown offense. Ed drowned him in a creek and then put the bike into the van and carried cheerfully on with his day. Suffice to say, Ed is not the forgiving type. Hans offends Ed, and the situation escalates until Ed says, “the time for apologies is behind us.” The thing about Ed is, even an offense can be rationalized and forgiven if decorum is kept and the rules are followed. Hans acts as though the rules aren’t for him; they’re for little people. When Hans does apologize, it is insincere, too little, and too late.
“…a neatly dressed but menacing older man, and Hans is rude to him…”
When he’s not driving around being a murderous maniac, Ed is a pest control expert. There are two clever script notes about that as his occupation. Primarily, and most obviously, he gets rid of pests, including the human variety. The other is that in English, his job is called “Exterminator,” reminiscent of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, and like him, he stays on mission, no matter what. Ed drives the neat white panel van that contains the tools of his trade, including ominous hazmat suits and his unique weapon of choice.
We’ve seen monsters like Ed in various manifestations before. He has a definite Michael Meyers vibe, and he’s also channeling the remorseless hitman Anton Chigurh. Tailgate even nods to Speilberg’s Duel, with its vehicular stalking theme. Director-writer Lodewijk Crijns does some heavy lifting to make this familiar premise — where an overconfident, angry douchebag pokes the wrong bear, earning the ire of an actual psychopath, who relentlessly pursues him — work. The little big man quickly becomes a sniveling victim in the face of true evil. The filmmaker is able to make the story feel fresh in context.
"…reflects a global weakening of the social fabric."