Title: The Hitcher
Genre: Crime, Horror, Thriller
Director: Dave Meyers
Screenwriters: Eric Red, Jake Wade Wall
Starring: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton
The Hitcher intermittently plays like the satirical fulfillment of a paranoid upper-middle-class fantasy. Venture too far Out There, away from the connectivity and creature comforts of the cities and suburbs, and Bad Things will start happening; at the very least, you’ll be attacked by hicks. The film opens with a Department of Transportation statistic of annual roadway fatalities, and proceeds to pummel us with images of shattered optimism: an adorable CGI bunny gets smushed by a passing sedan; the idyllic sight of a nuclear family packed into a station wagon, becomes terrifying when we see who else is riding in the back with the young boy and his stuffed animal. Acts of kindness are repaid with brutality; law and order collapses and goes to hell; our protagonists — a lovely young couple (Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton) on a modest spring break excursion — quickly learn to Trust No One, not the “hicks” and certainly not the cops.
The movie seems to underscore the absurdity of the fantasy — the enigmatic villain takes down an entire police battalion, helicopter and all, with a sports car and a pistol — and the ending suggests that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. That, at least, is how I would interpret the last line of the screenplay; the alternative is to see it as a descent into utter nihilism, which is perhaps more consonant with the film’s treatment of the titular villain. Much like the 1986 Rutger Hauer character, Sean Bean’s version of the Hitcher has a death wish for himself and everyone around him; what remains chilling even in the age of Saws, Hostels and Turistas is his single-mindedness and lack of apparent motive. Bean doesn’t have much dialogue — or much to do except leap out of the shadows and break through glass — but I must admit that some of it got to me, particularly his exasperation at the Sophia Bush character refusing to pull the trigger, and his last words in the film. I think it’s Bean’s delivery, though I do find the character conceptually quite frightening.
All of this is to say that The Hitcher is not without interest. But the movie qua movie is serviceable at best, and none of what’s intriguing and ripe for discussion is able to resonate. Director Dave Meyers, coming as many horror directors seem to do from the world of music videos, is actually decent at generating plain-vanilla jump scares, but he leaves his protagonists — the young innocents who are supposed to have our sympathy — on auto-pilot. Early in the film, they threaten to take on some form of identity — his instinct is to help the weird dude standing in the middle of the road on a rainy night, hers is to hightail it out of there — but any personality they may have becomes irrelevant once the hitcher starts his reign of terror.
What happens then is what happens in so many bad horror films: the plot turns into a murder procedural. We have our victims and a killer who has a near-supernatural flair for foiling their evasive maneuvers. We watch them make idiotic decisions; roll our eyes and/or shout at the screen; brace ourselves for the “Boo” moment; then start over. In The Hitcher, this unfolds in the most predictable way possible, and neither Meyers nor his screenwriters (Eric Red, the man behind the original film, gets a screenwriting credit and served as a consultant) offer much to break the monotony. The film opens up briefly when the police get involved, but soon reverts to its trusty formula.
So all of the interesting ideas and thematic strands here are trapped in a framework that can’t bring them to life. If the main characters are our entry into the film, then anything it has to offer can only be meaningful through them, and since Bush and Knighton are essentially blanks, it has a tough road to hoe. Though far from a thoughtless dead zone, The Hitcher is too limp and complacent a horror flick to capitalize on its promise, or on its source material.