The very young Jim is on a lonely road, smoking and mainlining coffee in an attempt to stay awake, and getting dusted by passing cars. When the rain starts pouring down he falls asleep at the wheel, almost crashing and shortly thereafter he picks up a hitchhiker, John Ryder.
Jim’s life will never be the same.
The Hitcher is one of the most disturbing psychosexual thrillers you’ll ever see. From the moment Ryder looks over the extremely innocent Jim you know Jim’s caught the fascination of a monster. Ryder’s threat isn’t the knife he pulls on Jim within minutes of getting in the car it’s the desire in his eyes and drive of his will.
I want you to stop me.
Ryder fixates on Jim, who is probably the only victim to fight back, and really do some damage. This adds to Jim’s appeal and soon the game is on, with Jim trying to warn everyone he meets that Ryder is a killer. In the age before cell phones and internet, Jim has no one he can call and no way to ask for help as he tries to outwit a serial killer who sees him as a challenge.
John Seale’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous: the low angle shots of Ryder, after Jim initially throws him from the car, rising from the ground and smiling is spine tingling. There’s a scene in a disused car shop where Jim tries to find a working payphone with no success and turns around to find Ryder waiting for him. No words are spoken but the look of horror on Jim’s face and the calm satisfaction on Ryder’s is perfectly highlighted by the dust blowing in from all sides.
Everything gets worse when Jim meets Nash, a young waitress who takes pity on him after his next encounter with Ryder and lets him use the phone in her diner to call the police. Nash becomes a pawn in the game that Ryder is playing with Jim, one that only Ryder knows the rules of and Jim’s just trying to survive intact.
Why are you doing this to me?
Figure it out, kid.
The thing that’s fascinating about this movie is the relationship between Ryder and Jim. Within a twenty-four hour period Jim’s entire worldview is turned on its head and he sees and does things he probably would never do in trying to survive Ryder’s obsession.
As for Ryder, it’s clear from the outset he isn’t actually looking to kill Jim. What’s unclear is whether he’s looking for a companion or disciple to carry on his work. The entire movie is Ryder testing Jim: his ingenuity and resourcefulness while slowly breaking Jim’s will. One by one Ryder cuts off every possible avenue of help or hope that Jim could have, isolating him and making him desperate and suicidal. The moment Jim realizes that every time he attempts to get help someone dies and he goes into a fugue state is heartbreaking.
Atmospheric, terrifying and groundbreaking this film will keep you up at night and make you never want to pick up a hitchhiker again.
4 out of 5 Hitchhikers