Here’s a philosophical dilemma: why is it that everyone who drives slower than you is a manic, and everyone who drives faster than you is an idiot? Here’s another philosophical dilemma: do you think it would be a good idea to make a feature film about exactly that premise? For Dutch provocateur Lodewjik Crijns, Tailgate is an emphatic “yes” to the second question.
However, the reasons for that “yes” are far less clear, than the fact that said “yes” is emphatic. If there’s one main concern that I have above all others regarding this film, it’s that Crijins’ fifth feature film seems to have very little point to it. Ostensibly, the premise for Tailgate is to ask what if you were punished in a slasher for being too aggressive on the road, instead of for premarital sex. The man too aggressive is Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger), a father of two precocious children, with a spouse named Diana (Anniek Pheifer). Time is of the essence for Hans, who wants to get to his elderly parents place for lunch, but probably needs to attend some basic counselling. The unintentional joke here is that men will literally attempt to recreate Mad Max: Fury Road on Dutch highways, instead of going to therapy.
Unfortunately for Hans, he gets stuck behind a cataclysmically slow white van. In an attempt to coerce the driver to move faster, Hans starts “tailgating” the van. At the wheel is a murderous psychopath known as Ed or The Exterminator (Willem de Wolf), who attempts to dispatch of his victims by spraying them with toxic pesticides. Hans’ actions clearly set of the exterminator, who torments the family.
Part of the reason that the above feels pointless, is because of how Crijins (who is both the director and writer) conceives of their characters. It’s impossible not to root for Ed, as Hans and his wife are both awful, and boringly so. The first twenty minutes leading up to the films initial incident is a slog of exposition. Hans is annoyed at Diana for taking too long, he accuses her of deliberately stalling because she does not like his parents, she’s annoyed with him for making said accusation, the kids aggravatingly fight over the iPad. The dysfunction is all spelt out to you as literally as possible, mostly all through dialogue. It’s not exactly subtle, and the purpose seems to be to try and get to the road rage as fast as possible.
When considering the production quality that Tailgate has, trying to get to your best quality as quickly as possible might not be the worst decision. Because while the lack of strong story basis hampers Tailgate, the film only works because Crijins has a high level of production quality at his disposal. The stunts seem practical, which means that there are a number of wide and long shots of cars screeching through cramped stresses, driving over curbs and through parks. Crijins also displays a masterful understanding of the eyeline match as a cinematic technique, Spitzenberger routinely guides where the camera will go via his eyes.
Ultimately, this film is nothing special, but seems to have a semi-competent grasp on what it wants to be. Really, you can’t ask for much more. I will though, because here lies the bones of a really interesting film, that gets lost in its desire to shock.