“The time for apologies is behind us.”
Tailgate, from writer/director Lodewijk Crijns, is a psychological thriller built around road rage (and perhaps just rage in general). What begins as a simple road trip turns into a journey into fear and danger.
Hans (Joroen Spitzenberger), along with his wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer) and their two children, are heading off to visit his parents. Even before they leave, Hans is beginning to complain. They’re running late. Every little thing seems to aggravate him. He and Diana bicker as they travel. And then he gets behind a slow moving van. Already anxious about the time, he honks, flashes his lights, and rides the van’s bumper. The van just goes slower. Finally, he gets by and begins to make up time.
When they stop for gas, the van comes in as well, and the driver (Willem de Wolf), lectures the children not to behave like their father and demands an apology. Hans is in no mood for all this. And once they get back on the road, the van is in pursuit. We already know (from a brief prologue) that the van driver is a psychopath who seems to be on a mission to rid the world of people who don’t fit his view of behavior. His method of dealing with them is to put on a hazmat suit and shoot pest control chemicals into them.
Through most of the film, Hans and family are in a cat and mouse game as the Exterminator tracks them down. It is all magnified by a series of bad choices that Hans makes along the way. (Kind of like in all those slasher movies when people always go into the basement alone.) There are many choices that might have mitigated some of the road rage. Some we may think were fairly obvious, but still the bad choices keep piling up.
A key element that propels the story is pride (the kind of pride that earns it a place among the seven deadly sins.) The Exterminator obviously has way too much belief in his own rightness, but that is is consistent with being a psychopath. Hans, on the other hand, frequently acts out of pride, even when it is self-destructive. Keep in mind that we don’t really see Hans as very sympathetic because of the way he is acting even before he encounters the slow van. He expects the world to adjust to his wishes—not unlike the Exterminator. It’s just that the Exterminator is much more violent and aggressive in acting out that vision of the world.
For me this is a story about the absence of grace in the world. Whether by Hans or the Exterminator, grace is never offered or even seen as a possibility. Perhaps that is an outgrowth of the way pride affects the characters throughout the story. If one always assumes they are in the right and others are wrong, where is the room for grace within any relationship? For Hans, that lack of grace is seen in many little ways, even within his family relationships. As the story plays out, we see that such a lack of grace can be deadly.
Tailgate is in theaters and available on virtual cinema and VOD.
Photos courtesy of Film Movement.