MAY 6, 2011
Usually the Asylum "mockbusters" are of films that they can in no way really compete with, budget/talent wise (Snakes On A Train, I Am Omega, and of course the immortal Transmorphers), but with The Hitchhiker, they were cashing in on a low budget, pretty minimal movie (The Hitcher remake, which basically just reversed the sexes from the original). And, unsurprisingly, it's actually one of their better films, as they don't have to make up for a lack of anything (i.e. special effects) with a lot of boring talk; it's actually got about as much action and carnage as the movie it's "paying homage to".
It also seems like it was actually written more than 12 hours before they started shooting. It's no awards candidate, obviously, but it's got a decent pace, some likable characters, even - and I'm shocked to say this - some semblance of an arc! At the end of the movie our now battle-scarred heroine repeats back some stuff the killer said to her earlier - Shakespeare it is not, but it's evidence that the writer was actually paying attention to his own storyline, something that you can't often (ever) say about the likes of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or Paranormal Entity.
Of course, if you're going to compare it to The Hitcher (either version) it pales considerably. The guy playing the killer lacks the gravitas of Rutger Hauer or Sean Bean, and by giving him a motive (he hates women because of shit his wife did to him) he never comes off as creepy or chilling as John Rider. Unless you count the rape scene, which is upsetting but unnecessary - I would much rather just not know what he was all about than see this sort of stuff. And the obligatory car chase scene is hilariously cruddy; I love how he slowly rolls to a stop when girls pull a "slam on the brakes, spin the car and shoot at him" move. There's just nothing in the world that can top Michael Bay-produced action and inspired usage of Nine Inch Nails, I guess.
But again, compared to their usual movies, it's a success. A clunky action scene or two is nothing compared to the ineptitude you usually see when they're trying to play along with 100+ million behemoths. I go in with pretty low expectations, and thus that the movie is watchable and not an insult to my intelligence alone sort of makes it a success. And the pacing is actually pretty laudable; Jack shows his true colors quickly to us, but the girls are kept in the dark for a half hour or so, allowing for some nice "show the audience the bomb first" type suspense. Plus, the girls are pretty likable for the most part, and they had a pretty believable chemistry with one another; I bought that they were friends (though their vacation plan didn't make any goddamn sense to me - they're not nurses but going to a nurse's convention in Vegas to party? I must have missed something in there). They're also much better actresses than the Asylum usually offers; lead Sarah Lieving in particular was quite good (and astonishingly pretty, bonus!).
I do wish there was one less "interruption" in the killer's plan; we are treated to nearly back to back scenes of someone arriving at the hotel and him pretending to be an employee (with the excuse that the place is being renovated - the blood on his clothes is "paint"), only for them to discover what was up, forcing him to kill them. There are two other characters (a mechanic and the actual hotel employee) that barely appear, and they had a good reason to be there. Having people keep showing up sort of deflates the idea that they are in the middle of nowhere and no one is around to help. I also wasn't big on the awkward shift in location/timeframe; the surviving girls leave him for dead and go home, and then there's like ten minutes of playing catch up before he finally shows up again to try to finish the job. Ironically, if the movie was more like The Hitcher, and sort of always on the move, it would have worked. But this movie is largely set in the motel, and it seems like it should have ended there too. It's the "Assault on Precinct 13 Remake" mistake, where they set the finale of that movie in a goddamn forest for some reason.
On a technical level it's pretty impressive for these guys; the HD work is above average for low budget productions (some of the exteriors could almost pass for film), and I didn't notice any of the usual Asylum trademarks (recycled shots, actors flubbing their lines). The production value is also high; it's nice to see practical locations and what not instead of janitor's closets subbing for submarine control rooms. And, it's depressing to have to note this, but the DVD cover accurately represented the movie - it showed one of the actual actresses, the car was the same one they drove, etc. Even Lionsgate doesn't get that honest most of the time. The audio team was a bit shitty though; you can hear the camera whirring quite a bit in the motel room scenes, and the attempts to smooth it out when no one is talking just makes it more noticeable when they are. Either leave it all in and chalk it up to an unseen refrigerator or something, or ADR the dialogue. But dipping in and out like they do here is just annoying. But it's still better than the making of featurette, which is primarily interviews with the actresses but I couldn't make out most of what they were saying, since it sounded like an mp3 recorded with a cell phone and then recompressed at the lowest bitrate.
The audio issues extend to the commentary as well, as they cut the movie's audio out entirely, so when writer/director Leigh Scott stops talking, you're just watching a mute movie. Luckily he only falls silent a couple times, and provides a fairly enjoyable track to boot, so it's worth the minor gaffe. It's rare to have a commentary on one of these movies (hell, Paranormal Entity didn't even have a menu screen), and he is an Asylum regular, so he is able to provide some info on how they operate (unsurprisingly, "do it fast" seems to be their MO). It can sound a bit cynical at times, but you get the sense that he is really trying to make real movies and doing his best to make them work within the confines of the budget and resources he has. Or at least, he WAS - at one point he says that his next film is a "Post-apocalyptic action film" or something along those lines, but does not provide the title - he's talking about Transmorphers. Perhaps they didn't know the title yet, or perhaps he didn't want to contradict his earlier statement when he claims that apart from Snakes On A Train (which he wasn't involved with), the Asylum does not make ripoffs.
Another interesting theme is his interaction ("I believe they are called flame wars") with internet folks, including a horror blogger! I wasn't too shocked to learn that "Felix", the guy who reviews gay porn for the internet, is based on an actual blogger that he got into a fight with on the IMDb (I looked at The Hitchhiker's board and saw him snapping back at a few "this movie sucks" types, so I don't doubt it). I'm sure they are doing Transmorphers 3 in order to cash in on Dark of the Moon, hopefully it's not too late to include a guy named BC, wearing a Sean Bean shirt and bitching about audio levels before a Transmorpher stomps on his ass.
What say you?