The Hitcher (2007) Review

In the 1986 psycho-thriller The Hitcher, young Jim Halsey (C Thomas Howell) made the mistake of stopping and giving John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) a lift. Too late, he discovered he'd picked up a deranged serial killer who left a trail of bodies in his wake as he hunted the boy. A well-directed but thoroughly unbelievable cross between Duel and The Terminator, the original Hitcher's biggest selling point was its nastiness. Cops and bystanders were slaughtered left, right and centre while the nicest character in the film suffered a truly horrific death.

If you're familiar with the movie, you'll find the 2007 remake is more or less the same experience, with a few new wrinkles. Jim Halsey, played this time by Zachary Knighton, is now travelling with his girlfriend Grace (Sophia Bush), who has a much larger role than Jennifer Jason Leigh's waitress in the original film. There's also less of a psychological level. There isn't the same sick bond between Halsey and Ryder: this hitcher's just a nutcase tormenting the couple for kicks. Those changes aside, The Hitcher is a remake, not a re-imagining. The plot is much the same and most of the major scenes are repeated.

Whether or not you're new to The Hitcher, you'll want to know if the 2007 version is worth bothering with. The answer is, probably not. In all fairness it's not that bad a movie, certainly not by the standards of recent horror remakes. It runs a painless 84 minutes, there are a few effective suspense scenes early on and the visuals are striking throughout, courtesy of music video director Dave Meyers, whose work includes Missy Elliott's Get Ur Freak On promo. Meyers has the potential to move on to better things.

That said, there's no getting away from the fact that the new film is just another pointless cash-in. As with all the other Michael Bay-produced horror remakes (Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1 & 2, The Amityville Horror) a familiar brand name has been given a slicker, bloodier makeover for today's multiplex audiences. There are no new ideas, no new angles. This story's been told, not only by the 1986 Hitcher but by better films like Steven Spielberg's Duel and John Dahl's Joy Ride (aka Road Kill). Screenwriters Eric Bernt and Jake Wade Wall, adapting Eric Red's script for the original, provide no good reason to sit through it all again.

The flaws of the 1986 film remain, mainly the lack of credibility. John Ryder is once again less a man than an indestructible and motiveless plot device with the abilities of a supervillain. He's able to show up on cue whenever and wherever the plot requires and he can singlehandedly wipe out any number of armed cops to get to his victims. Jim and Grace for their part behave like slasher movie corpses-to-be at every turn and the cops act like they'd be more at home in a Police Academy sequel.

The cast is weak. Zachary Knighton and Sophia Bush are just generic horror movie victims. Sean Bean makes a physically imposing Hitcher but lets himself down with a poor attempt at portraying a movie psycho - all smiles and twitches - and an even poorer American accent. Bean was a much scarier nutter in Patriot Games. Maybe after that, Goldeneye, Don't Say A Word and National Treasure, he's taken the villain role too many times now. Still, he's better than Neal McDonough, who's terrible as the head cop on the case.

The Hitcher's nasty edge has been blunted, but by time rather than content. The new film is actually more graphic, showing us killings that were previously left offscreen. The BBFC have trimmed a few seconds for a 15 certificate but this is still much bloodier than the 18 rated original. However, now that horror films as gory and sadistic as Saw and Hostel constitute mainstream entertainment, The Hitcher isn't nearly grisly or taboo-breaking enough to be shocking. Will modern horror fans even bother with this in a month when the Hostel sequel and no less than three of its clones (Paradise Lost, Vacancy and Captivity) are due to open?

Overall

4

out of 10

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