There's a fine line between paying homage to a great film and exploiting it simply to cash-in with modern audiences. Unfortunately, the horror genre has seen more than its fair share of the latter in recent years.
In the 1986 cult classic 'The Hitcher,' Rutger Hauer injected a chill into mainstream culture with his disturbing portrayal of a homicidal nomad that took advantage of kind strangers. While it was roundly dismissed by critics at the time, horror fans have long proclaimed Hauer's 'Hitcher' a genre masterpiece, often noting the authenticity of its acting, the twisted surrealism of its story, and the startling imagery it expertly employs. Sadly, all of that is nothing more than a memory in the 2007 revamp of 'The Hitcher' -- a gratuitous, trite, and to-the-point thriller produced by Michael Bay that lacks the raw emotion and genuine psychotic performance of the original.
As our story opens, Grace (Sophia Andrews) and Jim (Zachary Knighton) are headed for a spring break getaway when they encounter a strange hitchhiker (Sean Bean) at a gas station in the middle of the night. What begins innocently enough turns into a fight for survival as the two try to escape their murderous passenger and dodge police officers who believe Jim is responsible for the hitchhiker's killing spree. The resulting chase hurtles toward a dramatic conclusion, but fizzles long before it pays off on the tense premise of the plot.
Even setting aside comparisons to its much beloved predecessor, this 2007 version of 'The Hitcher' is a poor excuse for subgenre trash. Highlighted by subpar performances, a muddled script, and downright laughable story coherence, the film just doesn't bring anything intelligent to the table. Instead, it seems to solely exist in order to make audiences jump (and it doesn't even do that very well).
The film's core flaw seems to stem from poor characterization. Jim and Grace scream on cue and their expressions are convincing, but they lack the sympathetic nature victims in horror flicks require. Sean Bean is menacing enough, but his hitchhiker never seems to get the sheer amusement out of his work that the story would suggest. And then there are the police, who are presented as such caricatures of authority that their scenes often border on the ridiculous.
But perhaps worst of all, this updated version of 'The Hitcher' chooses to reinvent itself as the latest in a growing trend of cookie cutter female-empowerment horror flicks. Grace becomes the central force, not because it helps the story, but because that's the thing to do in today's horror climate. In the original version, the hitchhiker was constantly at odds with Jim in a bizarre father/son pseudo-relationship that pushed both men to the edge. In this version, entire layers of character depth are stripped away to support the barebones functionality of the modernized plot.
All in all, fans of the original 'The Hitcher' will despise this forgettable rehash and shake their heads at producers like Bay for their apparent disrespect of cult classics. Newcomers have a better shot of enjoying the film simply because they bring less baggage -- but they're still likely to find this 2007 version of 'The Hitcher' to be a below average, inaccessible thriller that only works as surface level junk. Will 'The Hitcher' make you jump? Sure. Will you still be thinking about it when you turn the lights off later? Hardly.
On the bright side, this 2007 version of 'The Hitcher' looks very good in high definition. Presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec, this transfer boasts natural colors, deep blacks, and nice contrast levels that help the image appear three dimensional at times. Texture detail is quite impressive, with hair, stubble, and skin all getting that extra pop -- even during low lit scenes. There's a slight grain to the film that's a bit more noticeable in nighttime shots, but there aren't any bouts of source noise or macroblocking (which are clearly evident in the highly compressed standard edition DVD). For a dark film, 'The Hitcher' is bolstered by sharp edges, crisp close-ups, and a few truly staggering visual moments (just a few examples: an exploding gas station, the shots of the hitchhiker in the rain, and the mental showdown in the cab of the eighteen wheeler).
There are a few inconsistent qualities to the picture -- slightly shiny skintones sometimes reveal the seams of the makeup, background detail drops at times, and the image occasionally feels flat in darker shots. Less problematic is blood that looks a bit too much like oil in some scenes, a film tone that relies on the genre's go-to-palette of sickly greens, and moments where color vibrance sometimes wavers in low lighting. Luckily, these issues are infrequent, and didn't have a huge affect on my overall enjoyment of this otherwise solid transfer.
Featuring a robust Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix, the sound package of 'The Hitcher' is as good as its picture quality. Dialogue is clear and well prioritized, explosions rumble and drift from channel to channel, and ambient road noise is subtly rendered. A rich sound design helps things along and the soundfield is populated by smooth channel movement, great accuracy, and an immersive dynamic range that adds real depth to the track. Gunfire is brisk and surprising -- in fact, sounds punctuate the soundscape more crisply than I've noticed with other horror film sound packages.
On the not-so-bright-side, sound effects tend to be generic, bass tones lean toward punchy bams rather than resonant booms, and the front speakers dominate the surround mix too frequently considering the onscreen action. The soundtrack is typical horror movie fare, but is technically hindered when it clutters the soundscape more than it clarifies it. For the most part, the sound design is well layered, but fierce moments are so boisterous that it seemed as if caution was thrown to the wind to incorporate every effect as loudly as it could be mixed. However, for the most part, the audio quality is great and fans won't be disappointed.
Instead of describing the supplemental features on this disc in order, I want to start by pointing out two features on 'The Hitcher' that everyone should take the time to check out. The first is called "Dead End" (12 minutes), a featurette that details a day in the life of an effects dummy used in one of the film's gory death scenes. It was impressive to watch the poor dummy come to a convincingly brutal end -- his life on screen is all too brief, but it's made instantly amusing after sitting through this fun and distinctive featurette.
The second feature I highly recommend is the "Chronicles of a Killer" video collection. Fans of this version of 'The Hitcher' will certainly enjoy this handful of mock news updates broadcast from a television studio covering the mysterious killing spree in the film. I personally hated the flick, but I still found myself enjoying this collection of faux news coverage.
Beyond these two unique and entertaining features, the rest of the supplements in this collection are quite dry and don't add much to the film itself. An "Alternate Ending" is little more than an excuse to increase the drama of a character's demise, a twenty minute collection of pointless "Deleted Scenes" are mostly random scene extensions, and a boring featurette called "Roadkill" (9 minutes) covers the standard vehicular stuntwork in 'The Hitcher.' Finally, a featurette called "Fuel Your Fear" includes interviews with the director, cast, and crew about the genesis of 'The Hitcher' remake. It's awash with self-promotion, as the participants shamelessly congratulate each other on what they believe to be a superior edition of the film and an original contribution to the horror industry.
As a film, this 2007 remake of 'The Hitcher' is disappointment, both when judged on its own merits and when compared to the cult classic that inspired it. However, all is not lost -- this HD DVD release boasts great picture and audio quality, a decent supplemental package, and even a "U-Control" video commentary track. If you do pick this one up, just do yourself a favor and rent the original 1986 version of 'The Hitcher' as well. When the credits roll on this revamped drivel, you can pop in a real horror flick and make yourself feel much better.