Film Review: The Hitcher (2007)

The Hitcher (2007)
The Hitcher (2007)

Once again ladies and gents we find ourselves in a position of debating the validity and necessity of horror movie remakes.  You know, it�s come to a point where I have just gotten sick and tired of the debate, not the remakes themselves, but the debate and often blind hatred towards the remakes of our genre�s standards.  Is there justification toward the blind hatred towards these remakes?  For the most part, yeah.  Most horror remakes do tend to bastardize and ruin everything it is we loved about the original for the sake of adding more t&a, gore and pretty young twenty-somethings in all lead roles.  However, blind hatred of these films should not be the constant, as once in a while truly exceptional (or at least passable and fun) remakes do manage to make it out into general distribution.

All right, rant over, and on to the subject of the day.  The Hitcher has always been one of my favorites.  Hell, I�d easily rank it in my top five favorite horror movies ever made (just behind Halloween, Dawn of the Dead �78, The Thing �82, and Cabin Fever).  It was scary and atmospheric, doing more with an incredibly small amount of dialogue than most scripts can do with an entire movie.  The dichotomy and sick symbiotic relationship that C. Thomas Howell and Rutger Hauer formed through the course of the film was fascinating, while both of them gave tour de force performances that showed us what horror should be like.  So, by all rights I should have found myself comparing the remake to every little detail of the original film, nitpicking what they did right and what they did wrong and probably hating it in the end for how much they changed.  You know what?  Despite all the bad press, despite my own reservations, I went in with an open mind and found it to be a truly fun film.  Perfect?  Hell no.  Did it do the original justice?  Just about.  Was it worth the admission price?  Definitely.

The plot for the most part is identical to the original, though now Jim Halsey (played now by the significantly more robust Zachary Knighton) is given a girlfriend to join him on his cross country jaunt in the form of Grace Andrews (the smoking hot Sophia Bush).  They are on their way to spend spring break at Lake Havasu, and being a decent guy Jim wants nothing more than to make his girlfriend happy.  However, late on a stormy night in the middle of the New Mexico deserts they run across a stalled car whose owner seems to be standing in the road for no apparent reason.  Jim wants to stop for the man who clearly needs help, while Grace just wants to go on their way, fearing that the man might be dangerous.  As they speed away the man, John Ryder (Sean Bean) looks at them with eyes full of ill intent.

He hitches a ride and meets the young couple at a nearby gas station and asks for them to give him a ride into the next town.  Being the nice guy and still feeling bad for leaving this man in the rain, Jim obliges, plunging him and his girlfriend into a fight for their lives against a maniac who seems to be more a force of nature than a living soul�

Girlfriend aside, for the most part this remake of The Hitcher stays very faithful to the original.  Unlike the recent TCM, Amityville Horror or When a Stranger Calls remakes, The Hitcher �07 keeps itself very close to the original film in tone, pacing and the events in the storyline.  It�s true, at 83 minutes long it is an incredibly short movie, lacking a lot of the atmosphere and panoramic shots of the barren desert that helped make the original as tense and frightening as it was, but that isn�t necessarily a bad thing.  Instead of trying to keep entirely in the shadow of its predecessor, The Hitcher �07 builds on what was and makes it a film all its own, focusing on unrelenting violence and the heart-pounding car chases and giving the film a more breakneck, action-packed tone.

Now, the prime complaint and the reason most people seem to be dismissing this film is its cast.  Yes, the cast is different from the original film, but that doesn�t make it a bad thing.  Were they perfect in their roles?  Far from it.  Were they horrible?  Hell no.  Knighton�s Jim Halsey is far from the doe-eyed youth that was C. Thomas Howell, but deep down he�s the same sort of guy.  He�s decent, in over his head and wondering why this is all happening to him while still trying to clear himself once and for all.  He doesn�t care about himself as much as he does his girlfriend, and although in the end it bites him in the ass, it does make this version�s Jim a noble, if not entirely bright, character.  Bush�s Grace Andrews is as predictable as a tacked-on love interest could be in a movie like this, but she does what she can with it.  She�s appropriately hot, screams a lot, cries when necessary and can be kick-ass from time to time.  I can�t say a lot about her as a character because besides a pretty face there isn�t a lot of development to it, but she does a pretty decent job, even if her requisite sole-surviving-female-a-la-Ripley turn at the end of the movie isn�t the most believable in recent memory.

And of course, we have John Ryder.  Nobody, nobody could match up to Rutger Hauer�s terrifying performance of the deranged hitchhiker from the first movie, and nobody should have tried to emulate it as it would have come off as a pale imitation.  It�s just not possible.  So, instead, British actor Sean Bean, most notable for his turn in the Lord of the Rings series, took the role and made it something all his own.  He transformed Hauer�s clearly psychopathic madman into a cold, calculating serial killer much more akin to something one would see in real life.  His abilities are as superhuman as they were in the original, but at the same time they�re still frightening.  So many people have been giving him a hard time for not being scary, and though he�s not as scary as Hauer, he still more than manages to fit into Ryder�s shoes.  The scene where he is discovered in the back of the family�s car playing with a stuffed animal is, as in the original, suitably terrifying.

Now, like I said this film wasn�t perfect and I still stand by it, as like many remakes there were a few irksome changes that fit the times more than the story.  The constant gratuitous violence and sadism really fits in more with this post-Hostel day and age than the plot really allowed, and after a while it did get a bit distracting.  The original got most of its terror from how restrained the violence was, how we were allowed to imagine most of what Ryder did in horrific detail.  Here, we are shown all of it in gory detail, and it gets a bit distracting at times (particularly in the end in the infamous tied between the trucks scene).  Additionally, the role reversal, leaving the girl to survive and kill Ryder destroys the character dynamic in many ways, as in the original, it seemed that the battle with Ryder was more Jim�s to fight than Grace�s.  Offing Jim and leaving the girl who hadn�t done much to fight and save the day was, well, just a bit incongruous to the rest of the movie.

What gripes there are exist only in the most minor of senses, as they don�t detract from the rest of the film.  Short though it may be, The Hitcher �07 is a taut, action-packed thriller that is a worthy remake to a classic film.  Go in with an open mind, and I�m sure you too will enjoy it.

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