On the Set: 'The Hitcher'
Remake pits two students against the peripatetic psychopathTAYLOR, TEXAS --
Based on the original 1986 film about Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell), a young courier who unwisely picks up the murderous hitchhiker John Ryder (Rutger Hauer), the latest horror remake by Platinum Dunes ("Texas Chainsaw Massacre") adds a third player to the mix. This time around, Jim (Zachary Knighton) and his girlfriend Grace (Sophia Bush) are on a Spring Break road trip when they encounter the hitcher (Sean Bean), who tries to pin his crimes on the innocent couple.
"We had the whole take of ... making it less of a quiet movie and more sort of a love triangle thing going on," says freshman director Dave Meyers on the set just outside of Austin, Texas. "I say that metaphorically because there is sort of a weird relationship with the girl in the middle of these two guys."
One leg of this irregular triangle is Jim, just a "regular guy" who suddenly finds himself on the run.
"We're looking for lodging, hence the hotel," says Knighton about the scene he's shooting. "This is three-quarters of the way through the movie and we're at wit's end, so we're basically looking for a place to lay our heads instead of sneaking around. But the cops are looking for us, and we're kind of sneaking behind these [big] rigs."
As the new addition to the story, Grace moves from happy-go-lucky college student to a resourceful fighter when confronted with the ruthless killer.
"She's a girly girl but she's got that sort of 'I can hang with the guys' side," says Bush in between takes. "She sort of gets put to the test. I think there is that instinctual thing when a girl is with her significant other, to really look to him for strength, or want to be taken care of. She's got to sort of learn to go without that ... finding the real strength that she's always sort of thought she had."
Meyers also wanted to update the film by dealing with some of the logic problems that the original posed. This production devised a new reason to pick up the hitchhiker since people are more cautious of doing that nowadays and tried to understand Ryder's interest in the two students.
"He's looking to die. He chooses one of the kids as sort of that person and that's the reason he's obsessed on them," explains the director. "He's not just a random dude chasing people, popping up out of nowhere. He kind of evolves into that and starts to realize that they are the ones, kind of like if he was a demon and looking to retire. He's looking for one of God's creatures, the purest person he can find to corrupt. That's part of his secret fantasy."
Bean, who plays Ryder as sort of an American everyman -- until he gets homicidal -- tried to get inside his character's head, which at times was an unpleasant experience.
"He's very intelligent and he's very calculated," says Bean while relaxing in a hotel cafe. "There's no real murder weapon of choice. He just uses whatever's at hand. To get some satisfaction, he would like to pass that feeling on to someone else. I think with Grace, he's quite fascinated by her -- by her independence and her strength and her character. And he wants to pass on what he has on to her.
"I watch television to see parallels between the character and certain individuals that do some monstrous things and become killers," he continues. "So there's that kind of scary element to playing the part. It's fun to do, but it does have some psychological effect. You find those feelings coming through when you're playing the part and it's quite disturbing and quite unsettling. You realize just what type of guy you're actually portraying, but I suppose that's the way you would feel if you were a mass murderer."
Balancing the quieter, menacing aspect of the thriller is plenty of physically taxing, violent action. Jim and Grace get their first clue about Ryder's true nature shortly after they pick him up and Grace is chilling out in the back seat, listening to music.
"[Sean] had to grab me by the back of the head and shove my face into the car seat from the back seat," recalls Bush. "We went for it. I had bruises all over my right side 'cause that's the side that hits the seat when he pulls me. It was fantastic. I got to work the next day, and me and the hair and makeup girls are joking around and we were like 'Look how sick and twisted we are.' We were so excited about it because you sort of come away with battle wounds that service the rest of the movie."
Throughout the film, Bush and Knighton found themselves running, grappling with actors playing police officers, shooting guns and even stunt driving Jim's muscle car, a blue 1970 Oldsmobile 442.
"We did quite a few stunts with the 442," says Bush. "I did a 360 spin in the car with a stunt driver that was amazing. You know, 400 feet down a highway in the pouring rain. It's sort of things like that. It's a very physical movie."
The original film also had its share of memorable, physical scenes, such as when a diner waitress is chained and then dismembered between two trucks or when Ryder plants a bloody finger among Jim's french fries. While some form of the first scene survives in the remake, it's not so certain that the latter will appear in the update.
"None of us are really clear on that," says producer Brad Fuller. "The reason why I can't definitely tell that it will or it won't be there, is that a finger in the french fry, when it happened, was an unusual experience. Now, it's a way to make money. That moment automatically loses that terror because it's become a joke in our society. So we're trying to figure out a way to do something and not produce a laugh."
"The Hitcher" thumbs its way to theaters nationwide beginning Friday, Jan. 19.