Tailgate is a thriller in name only, mostly devoid of tension and entirely schematic.
One wonders what exactly the point is of such a thoroughly incurious and dully unimaginative thriller as Lodewijk Crijns’ Tailgate, a movie about an extremely irritable man who deliberately antagonizes the wrong motorist, who turns out to be a murdering psycho that despises rudeness and rulebreakers. The problem begins in how the film instantly drains itself of any suspense with a prologue in which Ed (Willem de Wolf) finishes off what’s presumably a jerk cyclist by chasing him through a cornfield and jamming a commercial bug-sprayer down his throat (Ed’s an exterminator by trade, and thus eliminates pests. Get it?).
Next up, Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) and his wife and kids are off on a little trip to visit the grandparents. The second we meet this family, Hans is already grousing about being late getting on the road, scolding everybody for not moving fast enough, and complaining that his mother is an irritating burden who can’t stop calling; he even insists that his children hang up on their grandmother. As they hop on the freeway and Hans becomes increasingly irritable about the relative speed of the other drivers, it’s fair to wonder if the family might have a run-in with scary old Ed. Lo and behold, they do. First, Hans tailgates him relentlessly for no good reason. Later, Ed confronts Hans and his Brood at a gas station, initially doing a bit of passive-aggressive chastising and telling the kids that their fast food burgers are carcinogenic (allegedly creepy behavior that feels more like a mere interlude) before out and out demanding an apology, which of course just makes Hans all the more furious, dismissive, and arrogant. Of course, when they notice Ed’s white van following them, the family immediately kicks into desperation mode.
For all that, there’s very little in the way of tension in Tailgate, partly because its narrative feels entirely schematic and pre-ordained. Since Hans is such an enormous prick to begin with, of course it’s difficult to invest in his jeopardy, but there’s also a general timidity to any of the film’s attempts at genuine cruelty (Ed’s bug spray gives you a really bad rash, for instance), so there’s no real danger of heading into Haneke territory; in fact, all the moral handwringing over rudeness plays closer to a parody of something like Funny Games, except it takes itself so frustratingly seriously. It doesn’t help that it’s all filmed in visually flat daylight and mostly confined to car interiors and the occasional banal apartment or rest stop. Ultimately, Tailgate isn’t particularly scary or humorous or even remotely thoughtful; it’s more like a sort of a prank with no specific target in mind. In life, we all suffer minor irritations at the hands of peoples’ general lack of situational awareness and humility, but imagine trying to make a horror movie out of it.