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The Hitcher (2007)
1st Oct 07
A young couple pick up a nasty hitch-hiker who sees that they get framed for the murders he is committing.
Perhaps your first reaction to the news that a remake of The Hitcher has made its way to your local screen is to simply ask, “Why?” The 1986 original was a taut, effective tale with a mesmerising Rutger Hauer performance which managed to terrify just about everyone who caught it way back in the days of perms, bad clothes and even worse music. It struck a raw nerve in the heart of the American landscape and made would be hitchhikers think twice about stopping the car to pick up Rutger Hauer, or indeed eat French fries. Now, 21 years later, a new terror is waiting by the roadside and he looks suspiciously like the guy from that TV show, Sharpe.
Students Jim (Zachary Knighton) and Grace (Sophie Bush) take a trip to New Mexico to catch up with some friends but during a very inclement evening they come across a man who, despite standing in the middle of the road, wearing a long trench coat and generally looking like a very scary silhouette, expects someone to stop and pick him up. They fail to stop, only to be met by him once again at a gas station further up the road. Making a decision that falls on the wrong side of prudence, they give him a lift but before you know it he’s playing mind games and snapping his gracious driver’s mobile phone in two. Manners today, eh? Jim and Grace then take charge of the situation by kicking the ungrateful gentleman right out of their moving car and in doing so lose their remaining mobile phone in the process. However it’s not long before an unfortunate family are at the receiving end of John Ryder’s questionable passenger etiquette and before you know it, our friends Jim and Grace are the only suspects.
What follows is a well sustained chase as our framed protagonists flee from the local law enforcement representatives while all the time, Ryder, as if by magic (or some mystical force), seems to be always around the corner – one step ahead, waiting to jump on you from wherever you’re not looking. Classic popcorn-throwing scares of this ilk are liberally littered throughout and although instantly effective, tend to irritate after a while. However, the first few frights go a long way to creating the desired tense atmosphere but by the time you’ve lost all your popcorn over the people sat in front, you start wishing that Meyers would create a kind of fear that sticks around for a little while longer.
That said, this is still a relatively thrilling ride throughout. Knighton and Bush (from CW's One Tree Hill) are both more than competent in the driving seat, the latter getting to show some female machismo (reminiscient of Rachel McAdams’ ass-kicking in Red Eye) while Sean Bean turns in a surprisingly effective incarnation of the so-calm-it’s-unsettling Ryder, but the sceptics out there may sense a tongue in the cheek, even when it isn’t. Helping Bean on the road to villainy is the fact that he’s aging in a way that befits the role; his face becoming craggier and looking like it has been punished by the elements. His nondescript accent works a treat, and the makers employ a clever disclaimer early on when he is asked where he hails from - ”All over.” Neal McDonough was the real surprise here though, as ‘good’ cop Esteridge, portrayed with real vigour and confidence, this is someone to look out for – a slice of perfect casting.
Although this remake is directed somewhat unsurprisingly by a music video specialist, it isn’t strikingly obvious in that it denies us the routine visual flamboyance that usually goes with the territory in these cases. Instead, Meyers seems more into the idea of capturing gorgeous landscapes and the alarmingly deserted freeways where your nearest help may not be as close as you’d like. He’s done a good job here without ever coming close to setting new standards – lets hope he’ll save his best for work that fails to fall into that much dreaded ‘remake’ category. This a remake, sure, but it’s really difficult not to enjoy it. How many times do you want to black out any trace of an original’s existence from your memory, just so you can judge the updated version in its own right? If that were the case with The Hitcher 2007, it might well be as legendary as the original because this a lot more going for it than I expected.