A Dutch road rage movie – though, to be strictly accurate, its white van man antagonist is coldly, calculatedly furious rather than out-of-control, and goes about his road safety code vigilantism (he’s like a combination of the Hitcher and a driving instructor) with slow, methodical precision … which gives him a psycho movie ambience, though the impatient viewer might think that it also gives his prey rather too many chances to run/drive away, call the cops, buy a handgun and wait three weeks for delivery, or otherwise escape. That they don’t is down to the fact that the protagonist, who is similarly angry but also less self-controlled, is as unwilling to let a minor road annoyance go as the maniac.
In a prologue, we see Ed (Willem de Wolf) tackling a cyclist who must somehow have brought down his wrath – establishing his serial killer m.o. Then, we meet wound-slightly-too-tight Hans (Jeroen Spitzenberger) and his wife Diana (Anniek Pheifer), who are about to take a drive to visit Hans’ elderly parents – which isn’t exactly what their two little girls (Roosemarijn van der Hoek, Liz Vergeer) would like to do this weekend. In heavy traffic, Hans shows that he’s kind of a dick, encouraging the kids to make fun of other drivers – especially women and the senile elderly, which turns out to be a subtle clue to a couple of revelations that come later – and briefly tailgating that ominous white van.
At a garage, where the kids stock up on fast food because their gran is going to give them oatmeal derivatives all weekend, the family have a tense confrontation with Ed, who simply and forcefully asks for an apology which isn’t coming but crosses a line by addressing many of his remarks to the children. Hans doesn’t take this well, and Diana has to drag him out of the place … then Hans notices that white van in his rear-view mirror, and realises Ed, who must have nothing else to do, is following him.
There are a few more almost-conversations and Hans does several very foolish things, which lead to the whole family being on the run as the killer stalks them. On one level, this is an easy-to-relate-to film about long, boring childhood car journeys to places kids would rather not go – and the suspense is ramped up when the chase starts in earnest because the girls are distressingly credible in their panic as the bogeyman comes after them. Writer-director Lodewijk Crijns stages a particularly Holland-specific car chase that gets off the open road and ploughs through a series of small suburban closes with children playing in the road and mammoth speed-bumps that wreak havoc on Hans’ Bullitt pretensions.
It encompasses the road rage/car chase and stalker/home invasion sub-genres but is mostly a character study of a not-very-admirable man who’s never grown up – one of the creepier confrontations comes when Ed tracks down Hans’ mother (Truus te Stelle) and asks her about her child-rearing shortcomings – and has several other reasons to feel wretched about himself that don’t emerge until much later in the film (one revelation is saved for a coda). Spitzenberger is good in the role, but as a viewpoint character he’s hard to take – arguably, he deserves what he gets, especially for dragging his family into the firing line, so it’s more excruciating than suspenseful to see him being persecuted and we never have that connection we get with Dennis Weaver in Duel or C. Thomas Howell in The Hitcher that makes us hope the hero will get out of his bind through ingenuity or sudden discovery of guts. Indeed, Hans’ arc goes the other way – his ordeal doesn’t teach him anything, except how to whine more.