With lockdown extending all our Christmas holidays indefinitely, it’s become a routine to settle down in the evening and choose from one of the many excellent works of film available via Sky Cinema. There are literally thousands of movies to choose from, from the blockbusters we have all seen 20 times to indie films that nobody saw outside a film festival in a town you’ve never heard of. This choice invariably means we get bored when choosing, and when it came my turn to choose the film, my patience was already thin. A film called ‘Tailgater’ jumped out at me, a Dutch horror-thriller centred around a killer white-van-man. ‘Yeah,’ I thought, ‘that’ll be good.’ It wasn’t.
Obviously, there are spoilers ahead, so if that description got you interested, go and watch the film before reading the rest. It’s available on most streaming services.
The film opens with an old van driver stalking cyclist through a field in the Netherlands. For some reason, he has the cyclist’s phone, and he appears not to want to let him get away. Eventually after some chasing they exchange what becomes the drivers’s unintentionally funny catchphrase, the victim’s “I’m sorry!” followed by the driver’s “the time for apologies is behind us.” Then, the van driver dons some exterminator gear and murders the cyclist. Immediately the moral of the story is communicated and I don’t feel the need to watch any more of it. It’s a bit of an irritating way to educate the viewer on road safety.
Cut to elsewhere in the Netherlands, and we are onboard a Volvo SUV with Hans and family. They are late to meet Hans’ parents, and Hans is a bit of an aggressive driver, speeding and provoking others who get in his way. Do you see where this is going? Eventually, he clashes with a slow-moving van in the overtaking lane. The drivers share that awkward evil glance you do at somebody who cut you up in traffic, while the Volvo speeds away. They clash at a petrol station some miles later, with the van driver demanding an apology from the family and Hans getting increasingly animated about the stalking and insulting behaviour from the van driver. One flaw that jumped out at me – how could a Volkswagen van which was staying religiously at the speed limit have caught up with and identified a Volvo that was doing some 20-30 mph more for that long? I know it’s not supposed to be realistic, but surely murderous van drivers with an obsession for the rules of the road stick to the Netherlander’s Highway Code. Just a thought.
It becomes annoying to carry on with the film around halfway through because of the pure stupidity of the main characters. I empathised with the refusal to give the van driver an apology – after all, I wouldn’t apologise to someone who I thought was stalking me or my family. However after this, they allow the van driver to follow them almost all the way to the grandparents’ house, they stop to talk to the van driver when he has obviously been following them for hours, Hans voluntarily GIVES THE VAN DRIVER HIS PHONE!!!!!!!!, they get out of the car when the man actively trying to murder them is barely 20 feet away. I’ve been chased before and anyone willing to do that over a small slight committed against them is clearly a danger to everyone around them. If it happens it real life, don’t do what these idiots did. Drive to a police station (yes, this was mentioned, but they didn’t do it.)
Even without their stupidity, the characters are a grating presence in the film who almost make you wish the killer was better at his job. Hans is an aggressive man with severe Napoleon syndrome who doesn’t show much respect to his wife, Diana, or two daughters. They have a few endearing bonding moments at the beginning but become even more argumentative and irritating in the heat of the action. The kids… well, they are kids, so they’re not going to be laughing all the way home whilst being pursued by a killer van man. But the screaming and crying quickly overwhelms the dialogue and becomes an unwelcome distraction. It’s a bit like if you could hear all the diners and chefs chewing the whole way through Ratatouille. There is next to no character development for the rest of the film, although we can’t expect much of it from a story that takes place largely in the back of a Volvo.
Yes, it’s a scary premise and yes, it does make you think twice before giving someone an earful on the road. It’s well-directed and the constant glances in the mirror for the status of the van do add to a general sense of tension. But the whole idea is let down by unlikeable characters that make the film seem like a chore. I’m sure there are people out there who will enjoy watching it, but I stopped being interested as soon as Hans GAVE THE KILLER HIS PHONE!!!!!!!!! WHY?!!