In the 2000’s, we’ve had a jarring number of horror remakes, some of which have been released under Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company. Some of these include the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Amityville Horror, and the Friday the 13th reboot. The films have been of mixed quality to be sure, but one sticks out to me in particular. It’s one that tends to be forgotten. I’ve never seen the original, but I think that the Platinum Dunes remake works quite well, and that’s 2007’s The Hitcher.
Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton) are a couple of college kids who just want to have a safe road trip to their Spring Break destination, when they come across a hitchhiker named John Ryder (Sean Bean). The first time they meet, they fearfully drive away and leave John in the rain. Later that night though, they encounter each other once again. After apologizing and agreeing to give John a ride, the young couple soon find out that he is far more psychotic than they could’ve ever imagined.
One thing that really sets this apart from the typical millennial horror film, certainly one involving college kids, is the characters. Our protagonists could’ve easily been the typical douchey teens, but they’re actually pretty likable. They don’t have crazy amounts of dimension, but you like them. They seem like your every day college kids, but not assholes. It also helps that through a majority of the film, they’re not dumb. They certainly have a few dumb moments, but overall I believed in almost every decision that they made. Plus, liking these characters as much as I did really helped with the horror and tension. Whenever our heroes were in danger, I coiled up and was genuinely afraid for their safety, and this was my third viewing.
Another thing that helps make the characters likable are the actors, Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton. Both of these kids have great chemistry with each other, making you genuinely believe that they are a loving couple who give a shit about each other. These actors also make me believe in when they are scared, without just mindlessly screaming and crying. There are actual levels to their actions and reactions, layers to their emotions. Of course these two aren’t the only solid cast members, with Sean Bean making the perfect psycho here. He has that crazy guy charm, where you buy him as this good dude, but then when he does that total character 360, it’s surprising but you believe it. Walking into the film, you as the viewer already know that he’s the killer, but he’s still able to win you ever in the beginning with that charm. When he’s acting like a total psycho in this, it may be my favorite of Sean Bean’s performances. He’s so menacing and frightening, adding a lot to a pretty simply-written character.
This movie is also helped by a nice pace. Running at a mere 84-minutes, the film knows when to get in and get out. It gets into the action pretty quickly and never really lets go until the closing credits. It’s one big chase, where you as the viewer have actual stakes in these characters, fueling the tension for the runtime. With the investment in the characters, you really spend the whole time on pins and needles waiting to see where the story will go and where our protagonists will end up. The action is well done by first-time director Dave Meyers, who holds this film as his only feature-length film (he mainly does music videos). The horror scenes and tension are also done well, delivering genuinely haunting and cringe-worthy moments that never delve into camp. Well, the horror never goes into camp territory, but some of the action does.
There’s some genuinely great horror moments in here, but I’ll be the first one to tell you that there’s some stupid shit going on in this movie. You have these grounded moments of terror, but then you have some wildly silly moments such as Ryder somehow killing an entire police station single-handedly, without making a sound, or even the sequence where he drives in, takes out 3-4 cops cars then shoots down a helicopter. There’s plenty of dumb, Michael Bay shit going on here. The reason I don’t mind this that much is because even when it’s dumb, it’s still entertaining. Listen, I don’t mind a movie being dumb. I love dumb stuff, but I just ask for a film to be entertaining while being dumb. If your movie is boring and dumb, that’ll piss me off. But if you’re entertainingly dumb, I can get behind that. That scene where Ryder takes out the cars and the helicopter is ridiculously stupid, but goddamn it’s such a fun scene, blasting Nine Inch Nails and ripping through police cruisers. It’s dumb, VERY dumb, but it’s still fun. I’ll give it this, it’s never boring.
One of the weird things about this movie is the motivations for Ryder, which is an odd complaint to have because why would I be confused about the motivations of a lunatic, but hear me out. I just don’t understand why, after being kicked out of the car and left on the side of the road, he feels compelled to hunt these kids down. I get that if he didn’t do this, there’d be no movie, but I just didn’t understand the lengths he was willing to go for this revenge. But it’s not even like he’s hunting them down just to kill them, he can do that a number of times, but he doesn’t. Instead he keeps flimsily framing these murders on the kids, which is such an oddly intricate plot for this maniac. Whenever he would do something to set up our protagonists, I just kind of kept saying “But….why?”. It doesn’t bother me, because like I said the movie is dumb to begin with, but it’s just such a strange thing. When you have a film solely driven by this need for revenge, you have to understand the revenge, as well as the endgame of the killer. When we get to the film’s third act, you’re just kind of like “What the hell, THIS was your plan all along?”. I just…..I didn’t get it.
Listen, this isn’t some horror classic, but it never tries to be. This is the type of movie you rent with your friends or girlfriend on a bored Saturday night, and it knows it. It kept reminding me of stuff like Rest Stop and Joy Ride, movies that are idiotic and forgettable, and aim to be the same thing that this does, but this just does it better. It’s crazy stupid at points and the villain’s motivations/plan are laughably dumb, but the movie is a fun, tight thriller. If this movie were 90 or 100 minutes then the idiocy may have gotten to me, but it’s such a short film that I’m able to give it a pass. Plus, it’s not like this is a good bad movie, yeah it’s got some very stupid moments, but there’s legitimately great stuff going on here. Likable characters, solid performances, great tension, and a villain that embodies what I love about crazed antagonists in films like this, and hey even when it’s being dumb I’m still having fun. It had been about six or seven years since I had seen this movie, maybe more, and I had just as much fun watching it again. If you love B-horror films, you should give this a shot. It may surprise you.