The Hitcher (2007) / Horror-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, terror, and language
Running Time: 83 min.

Cast: Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Sean Bean, Neal McDonough
Director: Dave Myeers
Screenplay: Eric Red, Jake Wade Wall, Eric Bernt

Review published April 24, 2007

Jim Halsey (Knighton, The Prince & Me) and Grace Andrews (Bush, John Tucker Must Die) are a college-age couple on their way to enjoy spring break, traveling through the desert highways of rural New Mexico.  Their car starts showing trouble when Jim must swerve at the last second to avoid a hitchhiker (Bean, Flightplan) standing in the middle of the road.  Jim wants to offer him a ride, but Grace is afraid, and encourages Jim to move on.  At the next gas station, the hitchhiker re-emerges, securing a ride with the couple to a nearby motel, only to reveal, once on the road, that he is, in fact, a crazed killer.  Jim and Grace manage to kick him out of the vehicle in the nick of time, but the hitcher is unrelenting in his pursuit, killing everyone who gets in his way, leaving clues that point to the young couple as the culprits.

It's a bizarre choice to remake the 1986 cult classic.  Though the original film is over 20 years old, unlike many other films to come out in the mid-1980s, it's not particularly dated.  There isn't anything trendy about the fashions of lingo, and the violence within the film is still quite strong by today's standards.  It's nothing fancy, little more than an existential cat-and-mouse game between two men on the open road, and while not a perfect movie by any means, the reasons why the film worked are difficult to imagine recreating. 

Primarily, the film worked due to Rutger Hauer's menacing persona; he embodied mystery, darkness, menace, and an underlying envy for his prey, with a nuanced performance that ran far deeper than the few lines of dialogue he delivered.  Costar C. Thomas Howell has been interviewed many times, always stating that Hauer frightened him, both on and off camera, and this fear showed in every tense, sickening frame.

2007's version of The Hitcher is pretty much a remake in almost every respect, even if it gives Jim a girlfriend to talk to for the entirety of his journey. The reasons why this remake fails are not due to the story, which was a liability, even in the original version.  It has everything to do with creation of tension from a directorial standpoint, and the quality of the actors.  The original had a deliberate escalation of pacing and a nightmarish envisioning of the lonely highway that imbued each scene with a sick-to-your-stomach queasiness that kept viewers unsettled and nervous from beginning to end. 

Instead of Howell, whose performances in films always seem to be underrated, we have two underwear models with passable acting abilities in Knighton and Bush.  Viewers will probably spend more time trying to check out Bush's miniskirt and Knighton's shirtless physique rather than see them as living, breathing human beings with past lives and future dreams.  Sean Bean, a better actor, doesn't have Hauer's threatening swagger or even his darkly comic edge.  You never have much doubt as to the hitcher's intentions to cause havoc and murder throughout. 

Much of the blame should be laid on longtime music director Dave Meyers, who would rather shoot fights and car crashes to look cool rather to set an atmosphere that suggests there is a surreal, existential nature to the dilemma of Jim and Grace.  Basically, he'd rather shock you than keep you in suspense.  Though they don't give him a past or a rationale, we never have that suspicion that the hitcher could be the embodiment of Jim's inner fears, or even his alter ego and protector.  He is just a scary killing machine that wants to kill and keep killing until he can find someone who shares in his sickening passion, perhaps so that he can finally die himself.

At only 83 minutes, The Hitcher is bad, but not unwatchable, but the lack of tension, intrigue, and evocative suspense makes it a waste of time for any who've ever seen the original.  Actually, it's also  a waste for those who haven't, as the original is better in every possible way, to the point where this remake is already rendered obsolete, instead of the other way around.  The last line of the film, in what should have been the capper of a gut-wrenching finale, is, "I don't feel a thing".  If the characters don't feel anything about what's going on, why should we?

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo