The villain is introduced in the first scene, a meticulous pest exterminator (“Ongedierteverdelger,” in Dutch) mercilessly hunting down a cyclist on a backroad in the land of windmills, wooden shoes and Dutch treats.
He gets the drop on his quarry, who begs for his life. That never works, even in the Netherlands.
“The time for apologies is behind us,” our unnamed exterminator (Willem de Wolf) officiously growls. We all know what that means, or have our sinking suspicions.
“Tailgate,” which sounds almost adorable in the original Dutch (“Bumperkleef”) is a thriller in the “Duel/Breakdown/Unhinged” mold. And its tagline — “Road Rage Has its Consequences” — suggests something most of its predecessors in this subgenre avoid. Maybe the monster tormenting motorists has a point.
We don’t know how that cyclist crossed him. But next time we see him, he’s just minding his own business, driving the speed limit in the left lane of a divided highway (“dual carriageway”). All those cars backed up behind him? They should be like him, following the rules, being polite, etc. Right?
Especially the frazzled if not-totally-fractured family piled into that Volvo XC 90, scrambling to get to Grandma’s house for what might be Grandpa’s last birthday.
The kids (Roosmarijn van der Hoek, Liz Vergeer) are noisy, quarrelsome tweens.
Wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer) has a hint of passive aggression in her disorganized procrastination. Husband Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger)? There’s no “passive” to whatever he has going on. His mother is calling, constantly, nagging them for an ETA. The kids are griping and fighting.
And there’s this “kont gat” in the passing line, tying up traffic.
If you’ve ever been behind the wheel you know how this goes. Lights flashing and the horn won’t move him. “Tailgating” only gets you a stop-short. One rude gesture later and the die has been cast.
Diana’s “Don’t provoke people unnecessarily” falls on deaf ears for a guy seeing red. And that inevitable stop for gas is merely the second confrontation. Hans turns his back, and our exterminator is telling a gruesome story — a parable — to his kids. The family wants to leave and the tall man with sprayers and a hazmat suit tucked into his van isn’t having it.
“I’d advise you to apologize,” he purrs, in Dutch with English subtitles, or dubbed into English, “so that you can get back on the road safely.”
Writer-director Lodewijk Crijns — the teen cancer comedy “Sickos” was his — doesn’t reinvent the wheel here. But he keeps the camera tight, capturing the growing fury and then panic inside that Volvo, and keeps his extreme closeups low — bumper’s-eye-view — for the pursuit, chase, and frantic struggles and escape attempts.
All you want out of a movie like this is the ride, fraught and harrowing, a little empathy for the victims and some sense of release.
Crijns works hard to dodge the tried and true in that regard. This has “High Tension” touches that take it out of the realm of the straight-up “Duel” chase with its relentless pursuer. He finds new ways for our villain to get inside his quarry’s heads.
But sometimes avoiding the obvious leads to missteps as tension is frittered away and “logic” flies out an open car window.
I can only imagine the Dutch stereotypes Crijns is poking with his mixed messaging. The first “jerk” the family deals with is driving an Audi, sort of motoring shorthand for “kont gat” the world over. A bike-crazy culture frets over what transgression the first victim could have committed. The littering, speeding, bickering family with the blowhard, confrontational husband isn’t the easiest to root for.
And the villain? Is he or is he not owed his “apology?”
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Jeroen Spitzenberger, Anniek Pheifer, Roosmarijn van der Hoek, Liz Vergeer and Willem de Wolf.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Lodewijk Crijns. A Film Movement (July 30 streaming) release.
Running time: 1:26