At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Hitcher “86”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Road Thriller/ Stars: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeffrey DeMunn, John M. Jackson, Billy Greenbush, Jack Thibeau/ Runtime: 97 minutes

If there is one thing I have learned both in life and through the power of Animal Planet nature documentaries it’s that a cat, provided its name is not Garfield, will literally spend all day in pursuit of its favorite prey: a mouse. However when the cat has finally been able to get the mouse right where it wants it, the cat does not kill it right away. Instead the cat will always enjoy taking a perverse borderline sadistic joy in torturing that mouse psychologically and physically as much as it wants. Once done with that then and only then does the cat go in for the proverbial kill. The reason for this is because the cat doesn’t wish to just enjoy what it has fought so hard to corner and catch; rather it wants to take every moment that its prey is afraid for its life and milk it for all that it is worth. The reason I bring this up is because I feel that this very same predator/prey relationship is best showcased in a film known as “The Hitcher”. Indeed this is a film which really truly doesn’t have to rely on giving us an engaging and unforgettable experience based on a very complex narrative.

Rather the film chooses to wisely be dependent on the relatively straightforward concept of an ordinary individual being toyed with and hunted by a cold, calculating mysterious killer with no real apparent motivation. Indeed this is a film which honestly has the feel of an early John Carpenter film. Not so much in regards to what the film is about or where the characters come from, but more in the fact that this film chooses to operate as a showcase of a relentlessly thrilling, but also terrifyingly possible nightmare that is constructed through the skill of the director and the cast alone. Thus by building upon this foundation as well as the work from the cast and crew we as an audience are immersed headfirst into a nightmare that you will never truly forget….

The plot is as follows: The Hitcher tells the tale of a seemingly decent yet also ordinary in practically every way young man who is taking his friend’s car cross-country to California. One rainy night however, our hero, despite his reservations, stops to pick up a hitchhiker. Of course it should come as no surprise then that this particular hitchhiker is many things, but of sound mind; a fact he manages to frighteningly showcase when he, among other things, puts a knife to the boy’s throat. Yet somehow the boy manages to gain the high ground and proceeds to toss this disturbed individual out of his car and on the road. Unfortunately though this is not the end of the story; rather this is only the beginning of what will turn a simple cross-country excursion for this young man into a flight of both madness and the most horrific terror imaginable….

Now for a film about such intense and horrific material, it is one that is shot with an absolutely lovely eye for detail. Indeed this film is astonishingly beautiful to look at and it’s not hard to believe that this film’s director was a cinematographer first and foremost. Not only that, but with the way that he manages to make the camera really operate as evenly and peacefully we also get a nerve-wracking atmosphere that is able to make it through the film from beginning to end. I also feel that the music in this film is also a crucial aspect to this film due to helping raise the suspense level to the necessary level. Indeed it is in these 2 regards that I must say that The Hitcher really is one of the more stylish, and dare I say it, artful thrillers of its kind.

Now I feel you should know that in many aspects The Hitcher is most certainly not a grounded in reality kind of movie and the titular antagonist is most certainly not what you might consider to be a normal person due to his seemingly omnipotent ability to not only follow our hero anywhere as well as always seems to know just where exactly he is at any given time. Indeed make no mistake: The Hitcher will kill anyone this young man comes in contact with as well as make this young man’s life a living nightmare and yet no one can figure out why. Perhaps most frightening of all is the fact that even the villain never ever provides a concrete answer for just why he does all the terrifying things he does thus leaving it open to audience interpretation. With that being said I feel that the titular antagonist is the wicked side of human nature. Indeed the reason that this…man is absolute evil and incapable of redemption is because evil cannot and will not ever be changed for the better. Thus I feel that this movie is also a morality tale that asks the question of which side of the coin does one fall on. Indeed even though man has the potential for both within him, they both can’t forge a person’s path at the same time. Thus our young hero must destroy the hitcher in order to move on in life because only then will he be able to see the full spectrum of human nature in the future. Yes he will have to go through what literally amounts to no more than a hellish nightmare, but, as this film argues, he’ll be a better-rounded individual because of it. As to whether or not he is at film’s end I’ll leave you to answer that one for yourself.

Now in regards to the performances in this cinematic outing, I feel it is safe to say that Rutger Hauer manages to make off with this movie singlehandedly, and in the process contribute not only his best performance after his supporting turn in Blade Runner, but also giving one of the best performances in a horror movie ever. Indeed, as stated previously, there seems to be something….omniscient about this character and his psychopathic tendencies and Hauer manages to capture that perfectly. Now as I understand it C. Thomas Howell has contributed a lot of irritability between both reviewers as well as the casual movie goer for his portrayal of the protagonist in this. Yet I feel that not only is his showcase of being set up, and then attempting to not only out-run both the authorities and this psychopath who has made his life a living hell, but also try to save anyone else he possibly can only to find himself headed down a path solely compromised of vengeance seemingly terrific in every way and honestly I feel he really embodies this kid in a way that a lot of other actors wouldn’t be able to. Finally, in a smaller yet also pivotal role, we get Jennifer Jason Leigh as Nash and honestly she does an absolutely wonderful job with the screen time that she is given. Indeed, as Jim’s strongest ally in this dangerous game of Cat and Mouse, Leigh gives a performance that is tough, but also vulnerable in all the right ways. Indeed she is the eyes of the audience in this, and as she, and through her all of us, finds herself drawn more and more into this deadly game, she manages to showcase more in the way of emotion than the duo at the heart of this story are often willing to show throughout this film.

Now although the entire film is an intriguing thrill from beginning to end, there are a pair of scenes that are definitely stand-outs in their own unique way. One of these includes the scene where 2 cop cars are annihilated by a single shot from a shotgun in slow motion. Indeed this is most certainly something that could never occur in reality yet I feel the fact that it is supposed to be unrealistic just makes the rest of the film feel like that much more of a living nightmare from which there is no waking-up especially for our suffering protagonist. In addition I also feel that this film’s ending and what eventually goes down between the cat and mouse at the heart of this tale is both unforgettable yet also wonderfully filmed. Indeed I will not tell you how it all goes down, but I will say that by the time the end credits begin to roll, our young hero is sadly significantly wiser than he was and really has come to learn that people, himself included, are way more complicated than he could ever have imagined.

All in all The Hitcher is an unshakable nightmare that truly few films have been able to equal in the long and storied tale of cinema. Indeed this is a unique film in how it manages to approach the concept of despicableness and pure evil in a blended mix of both the road and horror genres respectively with the resulting mixture being an absolutely wonderful work of art. Yet it should also be said that this film can be difficult for some. I say that because this film’s violence, when it does occur on screen, can be hard for some individuals to really truly stomach and as such really comprehend why it has to exist in this film. Thus even though this film is hard for people to appreciate, and it really truly is not a film for everyone, I feel that if you are a person who is in possession of either a open mind or a craving for something that will make you think while thrilling you at the same time then this is definitely one film that, unlike the titular antagonist, you should not be scared to pick up. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Hitcher “86” a solid 3.5 out of 5.