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Old 04-27-2007, 08:47 PM
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Default Hitcher, The (2007)



Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: April 26, 2007

Released by: Universal
Release date: 05/01/2007
MSRP: $29.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes



inline ImageWhat do you get when you have inept characterization, muddled dialogue scenes, endless car chases and even more breaches of scriptwriting fundamentals? Apparently, if you are Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, surrealism. Dubbed dreamlike and homoerotic, mostly because that was the only sense anyone could make of it, the film has strangely attained a cult following. If Nicolas Cage in a bear suit could dissipate The Wicker Man following, then Boromir in a big rig chasing television stars should all but obliterate any cool surrounding The Hitcher.

Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes strikes again with this remake, Bay’s third flop in a row after Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and his own The Island. I’d like to think audiences are getting too smart for his empty entertainment, but with all the pre-release hype surrounding Transformers, he’ll surely earn back his throne as smuggest filmmaker in the ‘wood come summer. With Bay aboard on The Hitcher, you know it will look nice, but does this have any brains under the hood?


The Story

inline ImageA college couple (Sofia Bush and Zachary Knighton) decides to go on a road trip for spring break. Instead of picking up Cholera from some bad booze in Cancun, they pick-up John Ryder (Sean Bean). They almost hit him on the side of the road earlier, but when he asks for a lift at the next gas station, Grace and Jim have a tough time saying no. He’s a family man, after all, wearing a wedding ring and talking sweet to his family on a pay phone. His nice guy act quickly reveals itself as façade when Ryder casually asks, with perfect menace, how long Jim has been “fucking” Grace. He’s not Rutger, but make no mistake, this is the hitchhiker from hell.

inline ImageJim literally kicks Ryder out of his car, but that’s far from their last encounter. Ryder shows up a day later, riding backseat in a station wagon with a family of Bible thumpers. Jim and Grace try to warn them on the road, but end up running themselves off in the process. With their car crashed, and the Bible family slain in front of them, their Ryde seems about over. Ryder lets them live though, instead reveling in the chance to taunt them with cat and mouse games. When the couple finally make it to a restaurant, calling for help seems even worse than a ride with Johnny. They get arrested under suspicions of murdering the family, and it just gets worse from there.

inline ImageAs if being arrested weren’t bad enough, the couple then have to watch as Ryder systematically slays each and every officer in the small jail. He lets the teens free once again, but goes on to frame them once more shortly after. It is one big elliptical game for Ryder as he thumbs his way from one torture scene to the next. He doesn’t have an agenda, this isn’t terrorism. He’s not doing it for religion and he holds no grudges. He does it for pleasure, and that’s the scariest thing of all.

inline ImageWell, you can count on the Hollywood of the new millennium to fix any sort of linearity concerns from the original. Film is such a far distance away from Lynch and Bunuel these days should a plot point not be explained the system might just collapse from within. What is surprising in The Hitcher remake, though, is how little really needs explaining. At 84-minutes, this slick foray into sadism does without the fat that clogs most new horror films to a standstill. No maternal bonding like in the Texas Chainsaw remake. No creepy dead girl like in the Amityville remake. No padding. No excess. No explanation. Were the subject matter not so slight, this might be a great film. What it achieves though, might be something even more notable. Like Targets was the first modern horror film to come from Vietnam, The Hitcher remake is the first to be born from Iraq.

inline ImageSean Bean’s John Ryder seems born from the same smoke clouds that have shrouded America’s reasoning for going into Iraq. Ryder is purposely so ill-defined he’s little more than some runaround presidential address. There is no explanation for his motives, no back story or precursor. He kills because he can, which is George Bush’s abuse of power made metaphorical. It is fitting that the only real character exposition we get from Ryder is through a television broadcast. Rather than it be some Vietnam era expose of carnage though, today’s television shows us a clip from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Ravens group on a playground without reason or provocation. There’s no reason for their attack, there’s no reason for Iraq, but they do it anyway.

inline ImageIn most horror films we’d get an explanation. Why would John Ryder tie a innocuous teenager between a semi-truck and rip him in half? In the past it would be explained by religion. A possession or evil incarnate. None here. In fact, the only religious in the film die praying for a God that never comes. If not religion, then we’d get a story from a psychiatrist. None here. As presented, Sean Bean’s John Ryder is one of the grandest figures in horror today. He’s reduced to nothing, he’s a phantom. He’s Nosferatu without a curse, Michael Myers without a psychiatrist. He’s the first killer that stands for nothing and our social climate all at once.

inline ImageIf 9/11 made us care about history again, then Iraq turned us off from it for good. Politics are so convoluted, killing so random, that trying to mine a semblance of reason from activities today is futile. The feeling du jour is apathy. You can see it in our fashion, so nondescript it is without interest. You can see it in our celebrities, fighting over MySpace pages or casually flashing their birth canals. Nobody cares. The last lines in The Hitcher sum up the film, the genre and the world today in as good a manner as any film from the Vietnam golden era. “I don’t feel a thing,” states Grace, her divine name reduced to a skeleton of indifference. With those lines, The Hitcher brings us both back to the malaise of Vietnam horror, and forward in the apathy that will surely define the genre tomorrow.

inline ImageIt is ironic that it has taken a remake of a muddled eighties movie to return horror to the glory days of the seventies, but The Hitcher hits a nerve. Vietnam and Iraq are cut from the same mold, and The Hitcher rings with the same existential detachment that made The Last House on the Left so groundbreaking. For both films, “the road leads to nowhere”, with John Ryder thumbing his indifference from vehicle to vehicle, person to person, until like a plague the world is wrought with apathy. It is again ironic that a film that doesn’t care is met with a box office reception that didn’t care for it either, but already you can see the impact it has brought. Grindhouse recalls the same bare necessities of the seventies, and even throws in a mention to Bin Laden for good measure. Remakes and pastiches have taught us that there are no new ideas in horror, and now, finally, we’ve come to a point where there is no feeling. The Hitcher is the first great statement of the apathetic generation.


Image Quality

inline ImageShot by music video stalwart, Dave Meyers, The Hitcher not surprisingly experiments handedly in the video department. This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer really pops off the screen, with all the New Mexico cacti and shrubbery color corrected to the maximum. Every shot looks as if it was doctored through a Technicolor process, and while it may look totally, intentionally, artificial, that’s entirely the point. The visual transfer conveys the vacant theme of the film, all-the-while impressing from a purely technical standpoint as well. The film stock was grainy, and that look is preserved here also. Nice that a film that recalls the existential seventies movies also looks it, too.

Sound

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track on display here makes some of the best use of rear surrounds in recent memory. There are many great moments where a whisper, or a footstep, comes quietly out of the back, so subtle it seems as if it is happening right behind you in your living room. All the car explosions and gunfire are of course bombastic and enveloping, but it is those little moments in the back that really make this track stand out from your usual overloaded surround tracks.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageIf the film is a statement on ennui, then so too, is the main supplement, the 13-minute “Dead End” featurette. It looks at the tent pole semi-split death scene, but instead of covering it from the traditional awestruck of the usual Hollywood EPK, it follows Zachary Knighton as he prepares for a stunt he doesn’t even do. The featurette wakes up with him at 3:45 in the afternoon, follows him as he takes a piss, takes a shot of whiskey, and then cannonballs in the hotel pool while everyone waits. He tells his assistant to never look him in the eye, and then goes to set to watch his body split in half. We see how the effect works too, from the fine folks at KNB, but like the film itself, the intrigue is more in the fact that nobody really cares.

There are a couple other featurettes too, one ten minute one on the car stunts, and another 11-minute making-of, and both do a good job of showing a film set as they really are. There is a lot of coverage on the big stunts, lots of behind-the-scenes footage, and good stuff of the crew doing what they do best. Watching that car stunt featurette in lieu of Death Proof is also a bonus.

inline ImageThere are 23-minutes of deleted scenes, with almost all of it being alternate takes or twists on scenes previously in the film. There are three different scenarios for the hotel room scene, and comparing these with the chosen one makes for interesting couch directing. The alternate ending is more graphic and brutal than the one included, but far less effective. The original ending works so well because it is so void of emotional release. If she feels nothing, she wouldn’t be bludgeoning him with a shotgun handle. The disc is rounded off with a five minute reel of fake newscasts on the murders that definitely wouldn’t have fit in the finished film.

Final Thoughts

The Hitcher is as far removed from its eighties precursor as any movie channeling the seventies to reinvent today’s horror film could be. There is nothing surreal about John Ryder’s war of indifference, obliterating the hopes of anyone he comes across. Bare, brutal and empty, this is an apathetic film for an apathetic generation. Universal showed no indifference to the presentation though, with a visually lush transfer and a truly atmospheric surround track. The extras are interesting and fittingly different for a movie paving a new path in the field of horror. The Hitcher is not a great film, but it has finally brought horror the emotional detachment that Iraq has been bringing contemporary society for years now. This is the new horror…but whether that matters to anyone is the big question our genre is about to face.

Rating

Movie - B+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - A
Supplements - B+


Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running time - 1 hour 24 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles

Supplements
  • Deleted scenes
  • "Road Kill - The Ultimate Car Crash" featurette
  • "Dead End" featurette
  • Making-of featurette
  • Faux television news stories

Other Pictures

 

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Old 04-28-2007, 06:01 PM
Slow, Deep & Hard
Great review. I've got to admit I had zero interest in seeing this film, but after reading your review I really want to check it out. I like the original, but I'm not rabid about it. This sounds like it could make for a nice companion piece.
 
 
Old 05-03-2007, 04:08 AM
I strongly disagree with your rating. I could give it a D+ at best... It was so unbelievable. The acting was terrible. Nothing was scary. I'm not entirely sure why it was rated R either. To me it played like a Pg-13 flick. I have no idea why you had to bring Iraq into your review. It has nothing to do with Iraq or 911, but for the fact people are becoming dumber, and don't care what their watching so they keep making shitty movies.
 
 
Old 05-03-2007, 05:05 AM
Moderator
Puddy, you realize that that close-minded viewpoint has always been lobbied toward horror films, even during the golden seventies. It is easy just to dismiss something as shit and move on. I'm trying to dig a little deeper...if you want to read a cookie cutter pan then check virtually every other review for the film elsewhere. I refuse to surrender meaning just because it may be unfashionable. The reviews that really stand out in film history are barely even about the films themselves, but more about their context, their impact, their audience. At the very least I am writing in hopes that ten years down the road these reviews won't seem horribly trite, and if they change a few people's viewpoints down the way, then that's a bonus.
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Old 05-03-2007, 07:02 PM
This is the second time in two days I have agreed with Puddy, but come on. The only time this review would be on point would be on April 1st.
 
 
Old 05-04-2007, 11:36 AM
Johnny Hallyday forever
Great review Rhett.
I agree on some points, disagree on others, but I have to admit this was an interesting remake. I do not agree at all with your view of the original though.
Anyway, as Godard said, every film is a political film, willingly or not...
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Old 05-08-2007, 04:17 AM
Maniac
yeah, i love the original. I will see this
 
 
Old 06-05-2007, 06:29 PM
Maniac
Bloody hell...

First that gushing philosophical review for the Wicker Man redux, and now this? Okay, so you want people to still read your reviews in ten years; as someone who also has a movie / DVD review website, I can appreciate that. But I really think you're reading far too much into these sad-sack movies. Where do you get the idea that The Hitcher '07 is a treatise on the Iraq war? There's nothing resembling political or social commentary in the empty stalker movie that I saw.

The first paragraph is accurate, and I agree with this later statement: "Remakes and pastiches have taught us that there are no new ideas in horror, and now, finally, we’ve come to a point where there is no feeling." However, I would argue that this is not a reflection of any political statement on the part of the filmmakers, but instead represents their purely commercial motivations. Even the best of the current crop of horror remakes (the new versions of Dawn Of The Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) are nothing more than good popcorn action movies. They have no overt social commentary. I believe that any statements about the times we live in that may have inadvertently crept in can only really be analyzed with the passage of time.

I was just a kid in the 1970s. The state of world affairs wasn't something I recognized or analyzed then. I didn't see most of the great '70s horror films until much later, and yet I realize that they do in fact have an extra layer of depth that is a reflection of the times they were made in. I'm sure a large part of that can be attributed to them being made independently, by maverick filmmakers who had to really struggle to realize their visions on film. The current remakes of those films are professional studio productions with respectable budgets and the surface gloss of CGI-enhanced FX. They can duplicate the story and even the thrills of the originals, but not the depth. I would argue, in fact, that they don't even try.

I have a request for Rhett: I think he's the one who should review the Korean monster movie The Host, which comes out on R1 DVD July 24. Now there's a movie with political subtext to spare. In fact, if George Romero made a kaiju movie, it would be The Host.
 
 
Old 09-21-2007, 10:16 PM
HackMaster
Just watched this and wasn't impressed at all. The original isn't a classic, but it is an above average psychological thriller with a great performance by Rutger Hauer. I'm not sure where the reviewer's idea on the film's subtext came from. I didn't see any references to Iraq in the film's storyline, characters, set design, anything.
 
 

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