As the opening frames for The Hitcher inform us, 48,000 people die each year on the road each year. I know these sorrows have a variety of causes. Some are pure tragic accident, some the fault of inebriation, and some the fault of forgetting a turn signal or not watching a blind spot. Somehow, I doubt being sliced up by Brits in the middle of the New Mexico desert registers in the top five.
After attempting to briefly educate us about the perils of driving, The Hitcher (a remake of the 1986 cable standby) then jumps straight into the action. A guy (Zachary Knighton
) waits impatiently for his girlfriend outside her dorm with a 1970 Oldsmobile 442. As he sits by his muscle car and she (Sophia Bush
) comes out with nothing but pajamas and a small backpack on, The Hitcher feels like it should turn into a Penthouse story at any moment. They hop in the car, and before we even get their names we get to see Bush changing in the car and going on the road. Article continues below
I mean I know horror movies aren't really about the characters, but were the writers so lazy they couldn't even come up with a major? A school? A college friend? Any indication of how these two know each other?
In fact, as far as I remember we don't ever find out the answers to any of those questions. The good news is that as soon as we run into the creepy sociopath (a wonderfully chilling Sean Bean
), we don't really care.
They first meet him on a dark, stormy night. They're barreling down an unknown state route in the middle of the desert, he's standing in the middle of the road, and from the moment we see him, cinematographer James Hawkinson makes him look like the creepiest thing alive. She begs her boyfriend not to pick the hitcher up, and at the first of many cheaply drawn scare moments the predictable engine trouble almost prevents them from leaving the crazy man in the rain.
They escape to a gas station with the first in a long string of nameless stupid hick side characters. The hitcher has mystically managed to hop another ride to the exact same gas station, and ends up asking his way into hitching a ride.
The brief (and only) scene where they haven't figured out that he's a sociopath is about as much background as we get. We finally learn everyone's name: he's Jim, she's Grace, and the creepy Brit in the middle of the desert is John Ryder. He finds out they're on their way to spring break. Then he decides to break their cell phone and starts trying to kill them.
The amazing thing about The Hitcher is that while you can sit down and rethink its plot and realize what an empty movie it is, it's impossible to take your eyes or mind off of for long enough to let the stupidity sink in. You're soaked into the mess within a few minutes and don't get to leave until the end of the movie. Bean's sociopath is impossible to look away from, even though he's shown just slightly more often than Jaws was. Hawkinson's cinematography manages to make sun-drenched deserts creepy, and only offers brief and horrifying glimpses of the massacres.
While the script leaves much to be desired, it provides a lower number of groan-level disbelief moments then the average horror fare. There are plot holes that you can drive a small semi through, but sweet sociopathic distraction (and destruction) is almost always right around the corner. The Hitcher is simple and suspenseful, solely because of Bean's sociopath and Hawkinson's cinematic craftsmanship. It's worth a late night rental for only those reasons. If you took them away, The Hitcher would probably be just another sad movie by the side of the road waiting for January viewers to grab a ride.