|IGN checks out the remake of this cult classic.
January 4, 2007 - Last June, IGN was invited to the Texas set of Rogue Pictures' The Hitcher to observe a full night of filming on the Platinum Dunes-produced remake (the original debuted in 1986). Be advised: MINOR SPOILERS follow.
Dave Meyers makes his feature directorial debut on the new thriller, which tracks the terrifying trajectory of Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) and Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) -- a collegiate couple tormented by mysterious hitchhiker John Ryder (Sean Bean), a.k.a. The Hitcher.
The young couple hit the road in a 1970 Oldsmobile 442, en route to spring break. But their pleasure trip soon turns into a waking nightmare. The initial encounters with Ryder are increasingly off-putting for Grace and Jim, and they bravely fight back when he ambushes them. But they are truly blindsided when he implicates them in a horrific slaying and continues to shadow them. The open road becomes a suspenseful, action-packed battleground of blood and metal as, in trying to elude not only Ryder but also New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Esteridge's (Neal McDonough) officers, Grace and Jim must fight for their lives and face their fears head-on.
After a few weeks of exterior location shooting in New Mexico, the production set-up shop in the small town of Taylor, Texas -- less than an hour outside of Austin. Arriving on-set around 7 p.m., IGN remained there until after 5 a.m. the following morning. The night's filming took place at a small municipal building in the town center. The building had once been a local jail and those decrepit old prison cells in the basement were the setting for the night's shoot.
Although relatively mild and insect-free for a summer night in Texas, such was not the case inside the jail. Sweltering heat affected cast, crew and observers, while the production's craft services kept everyone hydrated with bottled water and watermelon treats.
The first scene IGN observed was a confrontation between Jim and local cop Harlan Bremmer, Jr. (Travis Schuldt). Jim has been falsely incarcerated and desperately pleads his case to Bremmer. But the cop is deaf to the innocent man's exclamatory protests. And just when Jim thought things couldn't get much worse, the lights go out. Jim is trapped in a prison cell, alone in the dark ... or is he?
Of course not! This is The Hitcher, after all. The next scene had Jim being surprised and accosted by John Ryder. Jim presses against the bars of his cell to peer into the dark. That's when Ryder appears and reaches through the bars to grab Jim by the neck. Ryder delivers a cryptic warning and, almost as soon as he appeared, the terrifying hitcher vanishes.
Director Meyers called for numerous takes of both scenes, working with the actors to change the inflections of their dialogue and blocking actions. Knighton was particularly full of ideas, listening intently to Meyers' suggestions and sharing his own just as energetically. Bean's working method was quieter, more subdued. The atmosphere on the set changed subtly when Bean was present; the fellow actors and the crew clearly understood that his working method required a different energy and decreased noise level.
IGN chatted with stars Bean, Bush, and Knighton, as well as director Meyers, in-between the filming of the aforementioned scenes. Bush sees The Hitcher as a character study disguised as a thriller.
"I think what's interesting about the movie and what we're really striving to achieve is the humanity in the situation," she explained. "It's an extraordinary situation and we're looking to show that absolute breakdown of people's sanity and what they do to be normal and who you become. What you allow for yourself when it's really a do-or-die situation.
"It's like all the what-ifs are materializing for our characters in this movie," Bush continued. "To watch somebody who is a happy-go-lucky, good, moral person become a killer and that's because they're pushed to that point. That's a really hard thing. To achieve that and to do it justice is the goal here."
The actress sees her character as "a 50/50 split of a girl's girl and a chick that can hang with the guys, and that's very much how I grew up and the sort of person that I've always been. So it's really exciting and what I love about it is that it's a scary movie, but it really combines the horror genre with that sort of psychological thriller."
The original Hitcher was a concept-driven thriller penned by Eric Red that followed Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) as he made the mistake of picking up hitch-hiker John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). Jim did not have a college girlfriend named Grace in the film, but he did become involved with a diner waitress named Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
Of Jim's relationship with Grace, Knighton told IGN, "I think we're approaching it as Jim being more of a Texas boy and Grace being more of a city girl. So we hint on those [traits] and I think we go into their pasts a little bit. I talk about my father and what he did and stuff like that."
The 1986 film has since become a cult classic, and it was a film that Bean and Knighton had both seen long before they were cast.
"When I was going to start doing this, I didn't really want to revisit it at all because I thought it was a good film and an exciting film," said Bean. "I just didn't want to have something in my head that wasn't going to be in this film. I always sort of like to make the part mine rather than seeing someone else play a role and then recreating that."
"The only reason to do a remake is to make it a better movie if they can," added Knighton, a self-confessed horror movie fan. "Not that you can make The Hitcher a better movie because it stands on its own. A fresh spin and something that old fans and new fans can be accessible to. [The original] was one of those movies that I watched randomly a year before I got the job. And then I watched it again when I got the job. We actually had a Hitcher party and had the movie playing on the projector on repeat."
Unlike her co-stars, though, Bush had not seen the original and had no plans to while she was filming.
"Granted, it's a remake but we changed a lot of it. I know the entire story of it. I just haven't watched it frame by frame. My character doesn't really relate to Jennifer Jason Leigh's and we're definitely making our own movie here. ... We've tried to take everything in this film and make it plausible. Terrifying but not so extraordinary that, as an audience member, you're watching it saying, 'There's no way that could happen' because that takes you out of a film."
Likewise, director Meyers was a newcomer to The Hitcher.
"I actually hadn't seen it before. It's kind of weird. I feel like I missed out on something now that I'm doing it. Everybody's like these huge Hitcher fans and I'm like, 'Where was I?' Because I'm a huge horror buff."
Meyers, who made a name for himself in music videos and commercials, revealed that "the reason I had held off on doing a movie for so long was they kept sending me these films that just don't really have good stories and, most importantly, don't have memorable characters. ... I watched The Hitcher and saw a lot of potential not only in the hitcher himself, John Ryder, and maybe taking it a little further and answering a few more questions that the original didn't answer. Still not really talking too much about him but having more fun with him, you know?"
Bean says the film's story is "kind of a journey for [Ryder]. It's probably a journey he's done before and I think he just feels kind of frustrated and amused by the fact that he can get away with anything and nobody's stopping him. He's pushing the boundaries and nobody's pushing back. He wants to know where to stop and when to stop and how to stop. I think he's kind of happy about it but he thinks if there's someone up there or some kind of spirit, then why is he not stopping me from doing what I'm doing? Who is going to stop me from doing what I'm doing? Maybe I see Grace as a woman who can but, you know, it's not in the text. It's not mentioned of him having a previous life."
The actor imagines Ryder as "a ghostly character that lives in the shadows, that does this thing probably on a quite regular basis and gets away with it and sees no reason to stop. He probably gets pleasure from it and finds some sort of peace in that experience."
But Bean insists that Ryder is "not particularly vicious. I don't even know if you ever see him killing anyone in this film. In fact, you don't see him killing anyone. You see the aftermath and you see the results of what he's done. But he's not a particularly angry man or a vicious killer. He's very controlled, methodical and quite charming in a sense. ... I didn't want to sort of start him off as the bad guy right from the beginning. There's not much time to show his friendly side so I thought I'd make the most of it at the beginning and try to portray other aspects of his character, the more human side to his character. From then on, once they give him the lift, he's pretty ruthless."
Bush can attest to Ryder's ruthlessness, which sometimes had rough consequences for the actress.
"It's so funny because when [Bean] turns it on, he goes from being this very kind, soft-spoken man to really being so menacing and so scary and it's instantaneous. We're going through the scene and he's ripping at my hair, shoving this thing in my face, and I'm crying and whimpering and trying to get out of it without hurting myself. I guess at one point I made a noise -- that I guess as a dad hearing from a girl who's nearly the age of one of his daughters -- he was like, 'Are you OK?' and I'm like, 'I'm fine, thank you' and he goes right back into it.
"It's just great because there's such trust amongst the three of us," Bush continued. "He had to put me in a very physically comprising position and Zach had to put him in a very physically comprising position. It's just been really neat. Everybody's really going for it and is really committed to doing it. And you know, we go home with bruises and it's fine. Nobody's upset about it. Nobody's being a diva. Everybody just wants to make it as real as we can."
Bean also paid his respects to his colleagues.
"I've worked with Michael Bay [one of The Hitcher's producers] before and I enjoyed that experience. With Dave [Meyers], he's got such good ideas. He's very stylish, very inventive. With the script being so good, I thought a combination of those factors made it very appealing to me. And it's something unusual. It's not very often you get to play this sort of phantom of death and the opportunity to take things to extremes, which I like to do if at all possible."
Meyers believes "the biggest thing that we brought to this remake is the idea of a boyfriend and girlfriend traveling across country, which I was really attracted to because the original is very lonely, very quiet. Not much going on. It's got a limited amount of ability to get to know people and I think there's sort of a weird -- not a love triangle -- but there's a lot more going on now because there's three of them interacting. ... I think it makes for a more contemporary film and makes the subject matter more believable to current audiences and the producers [believe that] having a female [protagonist, rather than a male] brings in an audience."
That hunch will be put to the test when The Hitcher opens nationwide January 19.
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