Dave Meyer’s remake of 1986’s The Hitcher sets its tone immediately, once white letters on a black screen reveal that “42,000 people die each year on the highways in the United States.” The matter-of-fact tone permeates the entire film to such a degree that, upon leaving the theater, it’s impossible not to think in the same, nonchalant manner.
The Hitcher starts on a dark and rainy night, the kind of sideways rain designed specifically to soak Grace Andrews’ (Sophia Bush) t-shirt while under attack. Grace and Jim (veteran television extra Zachary Knighton) are driving a 1970 Oldsmobile 442, heading toward a spring break vacation. At their intended destination, beer will be drunk, clothes will be removed, and roofies will run aplenty.
The ominous music of The All-American Rejects plays on the radio.
Grace is half-asleep; one leg is propped on the dashboard, threatening to expose her upskirt. She is content, having recently relieved her bladder of its contents. Jim’s eyes are on the road; he plucks, occasionally, from his Lillardesque tuft of chin-hair. It’s summer. Jim is wearing a t-shirt, though it is clear that he is more accustomed to the comforts of a popped-collar.
Jim and Grace are in love. The entire world is ahead of them.
Actually, a menacing man (Sean Bean) in a trench coat is standing ahead of them. Jim narrowly avoids the imposing figure standing next to a stalled vehicle, spinning the Oldsmobile 360 degrees and arriving, safely, in the middle of the road. He considers picking up the Hitcher, but — on Kate’s advice — drives on, resuscitating the flooded engine seconds before the Hitcher approaches them.
Minutes and miles later, Jim and Grace encounter the Hitcher again at a gas station. His name is John Ryder. His car is broken down. The nearest motel is 15 miles away. The convenience store clerk, a bumpkin who notes his own failure to milk donkeys, volunteers Jim’s services. Jim is taken aback. But Jim, clearly unfamiliar with Sean Bean’s filmography, reluctantly agrees.
In the car, few words are exchanged on the short drive, until Mr. Ryder asks Jim, “So, how long have you been fucking her?” directing his eyes toward the backseat, where Grace is listening to her iPod. Jim tells John that it’s none of his business. John seems irritated by Jim’s remark. So irritated, in fact, that John decides to end the lives of Grace and Jim with a knife. John fails; he is thrown from the car for his efforts.
John remains upset that Jim didn’t answer his question. A simple question, really: “How long have you been fucking her?” John thinks to himself, “This kind of snub will not stand. No sir. If an elder asks a question to a generic college kid, said kid best answer. Or else.”
Or else, John will kill an entire family traveling cross-country, take out 20 police officers, a helicopter, several automobiles, frame Grace and Jim for the murders, and otherwise wreak general, non-specific havoc on the road ways.
Jim should have answered the question. If he had, Jim wouldn’t have had his body split in half, violently separated at the waist by two 18-wheelers driving in opposite directions.
It really was a simple question.
Moviegoers attending the The Hitcher will jump from their seat exactly three times, twice because sudden loud noises will wake them from a light slumber. They will recoil once, from gore. The film will elicit 4.6 laughs, each the result of the film’s sheer absurdity. Seventy-three percent of moviegoers will shake their heads interminably, wondering quietly to themselves how they ended up seated in this particular theater watching this particular movie. Forty-three percent of female dates will turn to their boyfriends/husbands at some point and ask, “Why are we here?” Sixty-eight percent of the men will respond, “Just watch the film, OK?” Approximately 62 percent of college-aged men will feel guilty for dragging groups of friends to see The Hitcher at the Friday midnight screening. The other 38 percent will remark smugly, “Dude. That chick was hot. I’d tap that.” The same 38 percent will sleep alone that night reeking of burnt caterpillar, the signature scent of IHOP.
The only moments of joy will come from a Nine Inch Nails song, which will transport 78 percent of attendees 28 and older to an earlier time when they remembered thinking Trent Reznor was “the shit.” They will suddenly remember why: They were consistently high during a three-year period in college.
When the credits finally roll, most moviegoers will think little of it. They will sigh and walk out unenthusiastically. However, hours later, they will wonder why they continue to speak in short, curt sentences. And they will remember, finally, that “42,000 people die each year on highways in the United States.” And it will all make sense. However, the film — as well as the motivation of the Hitcher — will still remain a mystery.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.
The Hitcher / Dustin Rowles
Film | January 19, 2007 | Comments ()