If you’ve ever been the victim of another driver’s road rage, you might sympathize with the killer stalking “Tailgate,” a Dutch thriller from the writer-director Lodewijk Crijns. The Exterminator, played by Willem de Wolf, is a clean-cut, eerily tall man who kicks things off by murdering a cyclist. As the biker pleads for his life, sputtering apologies, the menacing figure puts an exterminator’s spray gun in the biker’s mouth and pulls the trigger, poisoning him to death.
Not getting the sympathy angle yet? Enter Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger), a loathsome man rushing his family to a weekend trip at his parents’ house. Hans snaps at his wife, gleefully teaches his daughters that women are terrible drivers and — most importantly — rides The Exterminator’s bumper for a long stretch of highway. When Hans is confronted and an apology is demanded, he becomes even ruder, despite his wife’s misgivings. In response, The Exterminator methodically works to track down and eliminate Hans.
The killer is plenty horrible in his own right, but it can be difficult not to root for him. This is a predator-stalks-prey narrative, and Hans has the charisma of a cockroach. As The Exterminator’s van creeps down the road, it invokes the same tantalizing suspense as seeing a fin above the water during “Jaws.” But here, the potential victim is a total cretin, not a skinny-dipping ingénue or a fearsome fisherman. This well-choreographed hunt is chilling, sure — particularly because of de Wolf’s terrifying performance and unconventional choice of weapon — but it’s also a little bit fun.
Not rated. In English and Dutch, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. In theaters and on Film Movement.