What is it with new Hollywood horror being devoid of scares and suspense, their makers thinking they can reason their way out of a lifeless script with spurting blood and brain matter? Movies where serial killers become superheroes able to take down families, cops, and teenagers with only a switchblade? I feared what kind of movie “The Hitcher” would be thirty seconds in as a cute bunny was splattered by a car on a highway. The film’s cynicism toward life is solidified ten minutes later as a dragonfly smacks into a windshield. By the time the first murder occurs, the audience is no doubt expecting it. That’s all this movie’s about – blood and guts without rhyme or reason.
The movie follows the exploits of Jim and Grace (Zachary Kingston, Sophia Bush) who leave college in search of fun but never quite get to their spring break getaway. What happens in-between is an implausible mess of knife murders and helicopter crashes, of headfirst swan dives into a land of disbelief. But the basic plot is that Jim offers a ride to a barbate stranger (Sean Bean) at a gas station, who in short time shows himself to be a murderer intent on tracking the couple through the New Mexico countryside for the rest of the movie’s run-time. My first impressions where that of the 2001 film “Joy Ride” – but even that movie’s killer had something that resembled a motive. “The Hitcher” has but an empty shell.
“The Hitcher” is full of clichés. The car that won’t start, the jump scare that’s only a dream, the innocent car you just know houses the killer. The film is produced by Michael Bay through Platinum Dunes, and though Bay gets written off by critics, his remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” wasn’t that bad, and the 2009 remake of “Friday the 13th” was actually kind of good. But here we have a film whose every shot is so obvious that fear is invoked not from knowing something bad will happen, but how bad it will be when it does. Of course the couple is falsely arrested for a crime, and of course the killer ends up finding them in the police station. In another scene a dog licks a dead man’s head wound and my first reaction – which I choked – was to turn the movie off in disgust.
As is the case with other of these types of films, (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Hostel II”) the production value is high. The acting is good, and the special effects are amazingly detailed. Even the camera shots are exquisite. Bright, lonely highways during the day give way to flawlessly detailed nights where rain pelts darkened roads. The sound design enhances the film’s atmosphere, where car doors opening become ominous and a gun cocking acts like a thunderclap in the night. But the production value flies in the face of a film that insults its viewers’ intelligences at every turn. The killer evades detection in this film for nothing more than hackneyed plot progression. It’s simply not possible everyone else in the film besides Jim and Grace are this unbelievably stupid. One highway chase involving cars and helicopters had me laughing in utter disbelief. And why, tell me, was this scene scored with Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer?”
I haven’t talked about the gore, which is plentiful, and in ways that makes you wonder why the filmmakers hate their audience so much. There can be something vindicating about gore in a movie when used for effect. “The Collector” was gory, but had a twist that almost made up for its stomach-turning nature. But a film like this uses it simply because it’s easy, and as a substitute for the suspense it lacks. Once again we have a movie with no build-up to an attack, and prolonged scenes of agony and/or bloody torture. Comparing a film like this to classics like “Halloween” or “Psycho” is impossible. But even comparing it to a film like “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” you can see how far the slasher film has degenerated of late.
“The Hitcher” is a just a terrible movie. A few jump scares, and the inclusion of actor Neil McDonough, who I like, elevates it, but it just never gets there. The ending is as predictable as the rest of the movie; it’s not as insulting as it could have been, but is that a compliment? At the end of the day it’s just impossible to recommend this film to anyone.
– by Mark Ziobro