Tailgate

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tailgate
"Crijns handles the action set pieces well, creating a real sense of danger and dynamism despite the smallness of the setting, but it's in the film's chillier moments that he really comes into his own." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

Mention a film in which a car driver falls foul of the driver of a larger vehicle, who won't stop pursuing him, and most people will immediately think of Stephen Spielberg's Duel. This film, however, really could not be more different. It's set on the busy roads of the Netherlands, where other vehicles are rarely out of sight. The car driver has his wife and children with him and the dispute is, at least to an extent, clearly the car driver's fault.

That driver is Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger), already in a bad mood when his journey begins because his daughters have taken ages to get organised, his wife keeps asking for a few more minutes and he doesn't want to think about how annoyed his mum will be with him if they're late. It shouldn't be a very long drive but with traffic, you never can tell. Whenever gaps open up on the road he pushes the speed limit, anxious to make up time. There's resentful conversation in the front of the car and in the back, the girls are fighting over an iPad. Then he finds himself stuck behind a van which is crawling along as if its driver has all the time in the world.

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We already know this driver (Willem de Wolf), having seen the film's prologue, and know that getting on the wrong side of him is a bad idea. Hans, however, thinks nothing of shouting abuse at him when he finally manages to overtake. It's the beginning of a series of encounters in which both men gradually up the ante, Hans repeatedly refusing to apologise, until it becomes apparent that the van driver is ready to take it all the way.

The ordinariness of the setting gives this film a different kind of creepiness. Writer/director Lodewijk Crijns repeatedly presents viewers with familiar scenarios, reminding us of the ease with which malice can overtake us in day to day life. Out of sight is never out of mind because it's easy to track someone down, or simply to bump into them again, in a small country. Hans doesn't want to lead the van driver to his parents' house. If the man once finds out his address, he knows, the harassment might never stop.

In the background of all this are Diana (Anniek Pheifer) - the wife - and her daughters Milou (Roosmarijn van der Hoek) and Robine (Liz Vergeer). Their presence gives the film a very different tone. From the outset, Diana is concerned about Has' aggressive driving. She petitions him to apologise to the van driver. When she offers to take over the driving, Hans refuses to let her. When she actually does it, he's so adamant that she's doing it wrong that he tries to grab the wheel from her, putting the whole family in jeopardy. Knowing that she will be going home with this man, spending day after day with him, we see a reflection of that other threat. It's a situation that she doesn't know how to escape.

In an uneasy scene at a roadside survey station, Hans finds the van driver talking to his family, deliberately upsetting them in order to get at him. He puts his arms around them not so much protectively as possessively. He barks orders, expecting them to obey. He and the van driver seem to be on the same page here, but the female characters do not have infinite patience, and a second layer of conflict emerges over time as Hans' behaviour carries him towards its logical conclusion.

Everyday aggression is shot in bright sunshine, whist the van driver's weapon of choice is simple but horrific, worthy of any movie serial killer. For his part, he makes some good points about the importance of the rules of the road and the threat represented by those who break them. Crijns handles the action set pieces well, creating a real sense of danger and dynamism despite the smallness of the setting, but it's in the film's chillier moments that he really comes into his own. If you're driving shortly after you've seen this, you'll be checking your mirrors with extra care.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2020
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Hans is a self-confident, cocksure man who decides to visit his parents on the other side of the country. With his wife and two young daughters along for the ride, the road trip goes well. Until a road raging, traffic fight with a weird van driver causes a major family upset. Ed, the van driver, wants revenge.

Director: Lodewijk Crijns

Writer: Lodewijk Crijns

Starring: Jeroen Spitzenberger, Anniek Pheifer, Roosmarijn van der Hoek, Liz Vergeer

Year: 2019

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Netherlands

Festivals:

Frightfest 2020

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