Trench with a View

Ken Watanabe plays General Kuribayashi in Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima.
Letters from Iwo Jima
Dir. Clint Eastwood; writ. Iris Yamashita, Paul Haggis; feat. Ken Watanabe, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Kazunari Ninomiya (R)

I get it: You need to see another horror remake like you need a hole in the head. The assortment of recently reincarnated J-horror flicks (The Ring, The Grudge), revamped Wes Craven movies (The Hills Have Eyes), and other new takes on old classics (Dawn of the Dead, The Amityville Horror, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) may have you at scary movie-viewing capacity. But if you’ve still got one in you, 2007 has already brought its own offering: music-video director Dave Meyers’ re-imagining of 1986’s The Hitcher. All ye easily frightened and weak-stomached, take heart; if I can make it through with my eyes open, so can you.

(I should qualify that by saying I missed most of Silent Hill and From Hell, much of Scream, and even a little of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, because I had my face buried in my hands.)

More shocking than my embarrassingly low tolerance for blood and guts is that — and it pains me to say this — The Hitcher update is kind of good. Not great, but Meyers’ definitely improves on the original. While it is significantly gorier than its previous incarnation, it isn’t exploitative, and the suspense factor is much higher. It also retains the gravelly, desert-swept look of the first, only with phenomenal color. Of course, the most pivotal and successful deviation from the ’86 version is the inclusion of a more crucial female character.

Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) is no longer driving cross-country alone —  he’s on a Spring-Break excursion with his girlfriend, Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush of One Tree Hill fame). After nearly running down a mysterious hitchhiker in the rain, Grace orders Jim not to turn back and pick him up. But it isn’t long before they encounter the hitchhiker, John Ryder (Sean Bean), again in a gas station, and trusting Jim agrees to give him a lift. Ryder is not who he seems, and the young lovers soon find themselves navigating a highway of terror.

Naturally, Grace looks like she walked out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. Because of that, you may expect, as I did (and it’s one of the reasons I often dislike the horror genre), The Hitcher to continue the trend of sexualizing brutal violence perpetrated on women. However, while there is a kind of sexual tension between Grace and Ryder, it merely mimics the unrealized sexual tension between Jim and Rutger Hauer’s Ryder in the ’86 Hitcher (without the unwanted implication that homosexuals are psychotic predators).

The Hitcher would have been considerably less fun to watch without the talents of Sean Bean on hand. (You might say Sean Bean is to The Hitcher what Philip Seymour Hoffman is to Mission: Impossible III … an excuse for watching, dare I say enjoying, a possibly-worthless movie.) Bean gives Ryder credibility not only because he acts well, but because Bean possesses a pleasant-but-forgettable visage that’s so well-suited for a character who can only get his kicks after lulling others into complacency.

Bean’s performance causes us to reach the same moral conclusion most horror movies ask us to (and maybe it’s what makes them so enduring): When you meet evil in the flesh, aim for the head.

Scroll to read more Movie Reviews & News articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.