★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Original title: Bumperkleef.
The ultimate road rage movie that collides with a nail-biting home invasion film. This Dutch film absolutely pours the intensity on in a way unseen in many a year. A rude and headstrong man picks the wrong enemy in a highway tailgating incident, subjecting his entire family to the revenge of a nuanced killer who uses rat poison as his weapon of choice.
Directed by Lodewijk Crijns
Don’t be a jerk. It has a funny way of catching up with you. Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) is an impatient man. And that’s putting it kindly. He and his wife, Diana (Anniek Pfeifer), and his young daughters Milou (Roosmarijn van der Hoek) and Robine (Liz Vergeer) are traveling to his parent’s house to celebrate his father’s birthday. It is a high-stress family event, and they are running late.
Immediately, we can see the short fuse that Hans has. He snaps at Diana for forgetting her sunglasses and the girls don’t help the situation by having sisterly back seat arguments over access to the iPad. Meanwhile, his demanding mother (Troos te Selle) is pestering him with non-stop phone queries about how soon they were going to get there. Honestly, nobody is on their best behavior on this road trip.
Hans is the worst type of aggressive driver. He sees driving as a competition, pressuring all the vehicles around him, believing them to be inferior drivers. It’s pedal to the metal, heedless of speed limits. And then he gets stuck behind one of those ubiquitous white panel vans, traveling slowly in the fast lane. He employs all his rude driving tactics to try and pressure the van to move into the slow lane, but the van’s driver isn’t having it, driving Hans and all the cars behind them into histrionics.
When the van taps the breaks to get Hans to slow down, he just gets more aggressive. The rub? We have seen this panel van before. And the last time we saw this van, the driver a pest inspector, Ed (Willem De Wolf) was dispatching a poor sucker with a forceful injection of rat poison. Hans just picked a road rage incident with a murderous psychopath. But… he of course does not know that yet.
When the family pulls off to a gas station, the man in the van follows them, confronting Hans with a bunch of creepy and cryptic warnings about rats, parenting, speeding, drowning, and now he wants an apology from Hans. Hans, of course, Hans is too proud to apologize. To the psycho killer. Now, this killer does not look like Jason Voorhees. He’s tall, but not particularly intimidating without the background knowledge of his murderous past.
Hans and Ed have an alpha male stand-off, and we know where this is going to go. Diana tries to calm Hans down, but it’s too late. Ed continues to follow the family’s Volvo wagon determined to bring his own brand of chemically induced vengeance. From the start of the second act, the movie resolves itself into a white knuckle pursuit, slow at first, and then more frantic, and the pressure does not let up until the credits roll.
Part of the power of this movie is you can really understand both the motivations and behavior of the protagonists and the villain in equal measure. All of the family are flawed and problematic, but they don’t deserve a rat poison fate. The movie does not hit on the Eric #1 Rule of “Do I care about the protagonists?” The answer is a resounding… sort of. Hans is a jerk and probably deserves an ass-whupping, but he is way over his head and he doesn’t figure it out until it is too late.
The performances are all spot on, and full of nuance and subtle ticks and gestures. There is so much good eye acting with the entire cast, even the kids. You can also get frustrated and fully understand the motivations and actions of the family as they fall apart under stress. They panic and do what many of us would do. The only somewhat false note in the drama is the actions of the tertiary characters and how our main cast remains in the pressure cooker when potential help is available. Though, pride and shame can make you do some pretty stupid shit.
De Wolf plays Ed as both unremarkable and coldly intimidating at the same time. And it’s only when he demonstrates what he’s capable of do you really begin to fear him. And boy, once he puts on the hazmat suit, he is full-on classic horror villain.
This is the second great Dutch Horror offering through the Festival circuit. The similarly intense Finale has proven that the Dutch know how to properly deliver a thriller that is fully fleshed out with real characters and real stakes. The North Bend Film Fest didn’t have as many horror feature offerings as it usually does, but they really hit it out of the park with this Dutch treat.
The car chases, not normally my cup of tea are more fraught with tension than any I have seen, this side of Mad Max Fury Road or Ronin. The slow ominous hunt is reminiscent of Jeepers Creepers, but once the panic sets in and the poor Volvo gets put to its safety standards limits, it’s an adrenaline rush. The digital cinematography is crisp and tight, with quick edits that keep you in the emotional space of the characters. Crijns also makes excellent use of audio blurring as the characters start getting overwhelmed mentally. It’s a movie that is hitting on many cylinders at once and is really well crafted.
It is still on the festival circuit and is not yet available online yet. It was released in the Netherlands in 2019 I would highly recommend you check the offerings from other film festivals for this one. I’m betting that it will show up again on Nightstream, the massive streaming horror film festival, as North Bend might be bringing their films to the shared streaming event in October. The film is not rated, but I would give this a light-R, for intensity, language, and violence, though it is not particularly gory.