The Hitcher (2007) – Film Review

This is an unnecessary and ultimately pointless remake of a cult film that never fully deserved its reputation. The new version is an adequate technical exercise, with some nice desert photography and a strong performance by Sean Bean (replacing Rutger Hauer in the title role), but the attempts at “originality” undermine whatever meager integrity the original possessed.
The new version kicks off with a bunny crossing the road. The texture of the fur looks realistic enough, but the too carefully choreographed movements betray its computer-generated origins, triggering mental questions (“Why not use a real rabbit?”) that telegraph the animal’s bloody demise beneath the wheels of a speeding car. The shot has the benefit of acting as a sort of overture for what will follow: a carefully choreographed dance in which in which phony characters will always foolishly walk in harm’s way, with gore-splattered results.
Instead of a lone driver menaced by a murderous hitchhiker, the revised script offers up a couple, Grace Andrews and Jim Halsey, played by Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton. This causes immediate problems: doubling the protagonists doubles the stupidity; even with two brains working on the problem, these pretty young ingénues cannot come up with a viable game plan to defeat the menacing “John Ryder.”
Even worse, it undermines the sense of isolation that underlined the original. For most of the first half of the 1986 version of THE HITCHER, C. Thomas Howell’s Jim Halsey was the only person who saw Ryder and lived. Ryder popped in and out with the unstoppable inevitability of a nightmare, effortlessly killing anyone in his path – except for Halsey. The double question posed by his actions (Why is he killing, and why is he not killing Halsey?) created an intriguing enigma that kept the film thematically interesting even if it made little sense on a believable level. Ultimately, Ryder seemed to be some kind of dark mirror image of Halsey, a doppelganger who, in the end, only Halsey could kill. (The doppelganger motif was even emphasized by the fact that the police mistake Halsey for the killer, blaming him for Ryder’s crimes.)


With two protagonists in the 2007 version of THE HITCHER, the mirror image motif shatters like a cracked windshield; we’re left with an awkward triangle that makes little sense and lessens suspense. Halsey now has a witness from the very beginning to validate him and to share his concerns; consequently, Ryder seems less like a phantom (or a “ghost,” as the script calls him at one point) and more like a flesh-and-blood human being.
The problem here is that Ryder makes no sense as a human being. He does things that are, by any reasonable stretch of imagination, impossible – like killing off an entire police station’s compliment of officers without so much as making a sound. He always managed to have his hands on a supercharged vehicle when he needs one to chase down the protagonists, and he always manages to be perfectly one step ahead of them, in exactly the right place to fire a rifle shot or drop a car off a cliff that nearly lands on Jim’s and Grace’s heads.
In short, Ryder is not a character; he’s a plot device, a mannequin pushed around the screenplay to torment the heroes. Even the victims aren’t really characters; they’re just on hand to die to give the heroes something to worry about. It’s all rather solipsistic and silly if you try to take it seriously; to work at all, it needs to be handled with the conviction of a nightmare.
Neither the new screenwriters nor director Dave Meyers seem to understand this. They even go a step or two toward trying to “explain” how the Hitcher accomplishes his seemingly impossible feats (e.g., breaking his own thumb to escape from a pair of handcuffs). Far from increasing credibility, the explanations only underline how unlikely the whole scenario is – like a nightmare subjected to analysis in the light of day, it loses its power.
What remains is a mechanical thriller that updates the old scenario with the inclusion of cell phones (needless to say, they do no good), a larger role for the female lead, and a gender twist that turns the lady into the shot-gun wielding Hitcher-Hunter by the end. The changes have an arbitrary feel about them: they seem like a desperate attempt to do something different, something trendy, something to prevent this from being a carbon copy of the original.
In keeping with this desperation, director Meyers offers up more visible gore. In 1986, director Robert Harmon managed to creep audiences out by not showing the violence (although scenes of the aftermath were pretty gruesome), but that approach won’t fly for today’s audiences, so you can bet you’re gonna see some blood. In particular, the infamous evisceration scene (which ended with a fade-out and an off-camera death in the original) now concludes with a bloody pop, courtesy of the computer effects team, that resembles a burst tomato. It’s one of those “aint-it-cool” moments that are not there to frighten the audience but to reward them for sitting through the movie – they paid money to see blood, so by god there will be blood. If it grosses out squeamish viewers, so much the better – that just makes it a better acid test to prove your own nerves are sturdy as steel and unfazed by on-screen slaughter.

In a not particularly inspired twist, the gender roles from the original are reversed.

By the end, this more graphic and literal approach descends to ridiculous depths, as Gale takes on the Jim Halsey role as the one who must kill the killer. Sophia Bush is pretty and appealing, but her transformation from Scream Queen to Warrior Bitch is laugh-out-loud funny as the ending plays out with all the phony mechanical precision of the opening. With the doppelganger motif completely absent, there’s no conceivable reason why Grace should be the only one who seems capable of defeating Ryder, so the conclusion is simply arbitrary: someone’s got to punch this guy’s ticket, and it might as well be the leading lady – and after all, it’s so much fun to see a hot chick in a mini-skirt wielding a shotgun (although from the way she holds it, it looks as if she’s lucky it didn’t knock her on her ass).
If this version of THE HITCHER proves anything, it is the importance of style. The original version had plenty of it, which helped to mask the manifest absurdities of the screenplay, creating the illusion that the Hitcher’s incredible actions were justified because he was almost some kind of mythical monster: an avatar of violence, an embodiment of harsh indifference of the desert wastelands, and/or a personification of something dark within the soul of Jim Halsey. Strip away the style, and all you’re left with is a story about an obnoxious psycho-killer inexplicably gifted with near-miraculous indestructibility.
On that level, John Ryder cannot impress us as much as he once did, especially after two decades of demented serial killers in films like SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SEVEN: Ryder may seem fearsome out on a lonely road at night, where help is not easy to come by, but if he ever hitched a ride with Hannibal the Cannibal, he’d be Lecter-chow in five minutes.

DVD DETAILS

The May 2007 debut of THE HITCHER on DVD presents the film in three different forms: Full Screen DVD (ASIN: B000NO3DLQ), Widescreen DVD(ASIN: B000NO3DLG), and Combo HD-DVD and Standard DVD (ASIN: B000NQQ4LK). Bonus features include:

  • Deleted Scenes
    Featurette: “Dead End”
    Road Kill: The Ultimate Car Crash

THE HITCHER(2007). Directed by Dave Meyers. Screenplay by Eric Red and Jack Wade Wall and Eric Bernt, based on the 1986 film written by Eric Red. Cast: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, Neil McDonough, Kyle Davis, Skip O’Brien.

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