The Hitcher (2007)
There are certain things that every mother drums into their children; ‘don’t run with scissors; don’t talk to strangers and under no circumstances pick up a strange hitchhiker’. Even if we can’t appreciate this sage advice at the time it was given, numerous horror films have shown us the repercussions involved with breaking these rules. Among these cautionary tales is the latest in a long line of horror remakes, ‘The Hitcher’. Dave Meyers revisits the story of a couple picking up ominous hitchhiker on a lonely road. Unfortunately it is based on a 1986 classic that offered much more in the way of casting and writing. Usually it is best to take a film on its own merits but in this case it is almost impossible to forget the original versions and comparisons are inevitable. When I try to move back to look at the film on its own it does have some thrills but they are more mechanical than visceral in nature. Hitchcock had it right; terror is in the mind not the eyes and this new version of the Hitcher has the gore but not the emotional impact.
Driving through New Mexico in a classic, 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 a young couple is off on spring break. Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) is bringing her boyfriend Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) to meet up with her friends, a normal enough plan for two young people. One dark and stormy night (is there any other kind in a horror flick) the couple passes a man apparently stranded next to a broken down car. They think they should offer him a lift but what if is some kind of psycho killer? They continue on to a local gas station where they intend to fill the tank and get some food. Jim notices the stranger they passed on the road. The man introduces himself to Jim as John Ryder (Sean Bean) and requests a lift. The conversation almost immediately becomes inappropriate but still the young couple is uncertain about just how menacing the stranger is. All doubts disappear when Ryder reaches into the glove box, removes the cell phone and breaks it in half. Jim tries to pull over to kick out their unwanted passenger but Ryder pulls a switchblade on Grace and demands that Jim says he wants to die. After a little while Jim manages to push Ryder out of the car and speed off. Soon afterwards they see Ryder hitchhiking again picked up by a family with some kids. They try to warn the family to no avail getting driven off the road in the process. Continuing on foot they come upon the family’s station wagon but to their trepidation the mother and children are dead and the father is barely alive with a knife stuck in him. Grace and Jim get in the wagon and try to drive the father to help but Ryder appears in a truck attempting to push them off the road. Jim and Grace manage to get away and drive to a little roadside coffee shop. There the father dies. When Grace goes into the ladies room she sees Ryder there but he disappears just as the police show up. Jim and Grace are arrested for the killings and during Grace’s interrogation Ryder once again appears and kills the policemen. The couple flees again and when the come across another policeman they take his gun and tell the officer to get in the car. A shot rings out but it wasn’t the gun they were holding, Grace looks up and sees Ryder with a rife in a passing bus. Of course in one respite from the chase the couple stops in a motel and take a shower together. Grace is in the mood but instead of Jim being in the room with her its Ryder who rapes her. You would think after all the murders and dangerous car chases this girl would not consider sex an option but it is a ‘R’ rated movie so some sexual themes have to find their way into the plot. There are some more chases with the police and even more mindless killing to pass the time until the closing credits.
Now there is nothing wrong with an improbable script in a horror flick. Let’s face it, a guy with knives on his glove or an indestructible man with a William Shatner mask is not in the realm of believability. What is needed is the thrillers have to have a cumulative effect with the audience. The suspense has to build, drawing the audience in bit by bit. Here it the scenes are almost disconnected emotionally. Each one is a bloodier variation of the previous shot. This is difficult to achieve even for a seasoned master of horror. This is the first feature film for director Dave Meyers. Previously his career consisted of directing music videos for Britney Spears, Creed and Jennifer Lopez. Perhaps this is why the film is so episodic. Meyers is more accustomed to telling a story in under four minutes. Not only this film have the unenviable task of living up to the 1986 version it has to compete with the ultimate road chase with evil film, ‘Duel’. Not even the 1986 Hitcher could compete with that one.
The casting department has a lot to do with the failings of this flick. Sean Bean is a great actor but he is in the shadow of an actor, who plays sinister like no one else, Rutger Hauer. Bean has a generic American accent which does work and is sufficiently threatening but here he lacks the evil flair or Hauer. Zachary Knighton has potential that is not given a chance here. He commits to the role but there is not enough here to give him a chance. Sophia Bush is best known for her role on a teen television drama, The OC and it appears that her presence in the film is to draw in that fan base. She has the scream down but need better material to grow in her craft.
Universal does have a reputation for horror; they practically invented the horror flick genre. Here they give their best to the DVD release of this film. The 2.40:1 anamorphic video is crisp and clear with no defects. The color balance is well done and helps to set the mood. The audio is in a dynamic Dolby 5.1 with all the speakers, especially the sub woofer a work out. There are also plenty of extra features on the disc. There is about 20 minutes of deleted scenes including an alternate ending. The making of feature does show the technical problems of a horror remake. There is also a behind the scenes look at one of the more incredible car crashes. Filling out the disc is a look at the killer. This film does best on a rainy night with some friends, a case of beer and a couple of pizzas.