Stop me if you've heard this one: new horror movies aren't as good as old horror movies because of commercial pressure.

Now, I admit that I've never seen the 1986 version of The Hitcher, although people who know things about '80s horror films (which is to say: not the people calling it a rote slasher film, likely without benefit of having watched it) claim that it's one of the very best, and just about the only legitimately scary American film made in that decade.

No, like a blind idiot I decided to see the remake, so I can't claim, in good faith, that the big problem here is that the original was brutal and this one is sterile, although it is very sterile indeed (the Big Death near the end, that sets up the far-too-long denouement, is particularly bloodless, which I mean in both the metaphorical and the literal senses). But I hope you'll bear with me for a little bit of boilerplate here and there.

The film in a nutshell: Jim (Zachary Knighton) is an annoying college student, his girlfriend Grace (Sophia Bush) is even more annoying, and as they drive to Lake Something in New Mexico for spring break, they run afoul of John Ryder (Sean Bean), a hitchhiker of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition. For a reason never even hinted at, he begins stalking the young people and killing significant numbers of people, including a vacationing family and a whole passel of cops.

I am of torn mind. I think that inherently, this is not at all sensible, but inherently, that doesn't mean it can't work. What it requires is commitment - it requires that everyone involved fully believes in their story and takes ownership of the great implausibility. I said of Happy Feet that it works primarily because George Miller does not run from the fantastic elements of the story, but embraces and respects them. So too do I think that The Hitcher could have worked as an exercise in random terror (and random terror is the only kind that's really scary, anyway), if only the director and cast had embraced it.

Obviously, I wouldn't be writing this way if they had. As a matter of fact, they do the opposite - there is a strong, almost tangible feeling that everyone involved signed up because horror films are fast and easy and they pay well.

Particularly Sean Bean. If this is going to work at all, it needs a cartoon villain whose evilness is so palpable that we never stop to ask questions. Bean isn't that villain, although he's proven himself capable of it in the past. Bean isn't much of anything, really. He has no fire in his eyes, no soul.

I've said it before, and I'm enough of a sucker that I'll keep saying it every time I see one of these movies: horror directors in the Ol' Days had strong feelings. Sometimes it was passion and a desire to fuck up the audience, and sometimes, as in the bulk of '80s slasher films, it was unsuppressed loathing of the audience, but there was always something under the film, something driving its production. Modern horror films lack that - I would rather watch a film as disreputable as Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, for all that you can tell the whole team is disgusted to be making it, because at least there's disgust. The Hitcher and its brethren are baldly make-work projects. It's watching director Dave Meyers doing his job. He has as little interest in staging this movie as I have in sitting at a computer for 8 hours.

The really frustrating part is that this means that the film can't reach the heights of True Badness. It's competent and boring, and for all the critics who have reacted to this rather shockingly non-gory splatter film as though it were the most vile grotesquerie that ever slouched into a cinema to rip away the last remaining shreds of human decency, the worst thing I can possibly think to say is that it's completely unnecessary.

There is a bit of fun to be had at the expense of the actors: Bean is dull, but Knighton is obviously thrilled to have a big part in a real movie, and he mugs like crazy. He is also one of the roundest-faced fugly individuals I've ever seen. You know when you are creating an avatar in a video game, or something similar, and there is that weird fat little nose that you can't imagine who would ever actually look like that? Zachary Knighton looks like that.

Meanwhile, Sophia Bush: what is there, really, to say about Sophia Bush? She's a train wreck. She has no measurable charisma, and she cannot perform even the simplest parody of acting. The only time in The Hitcher that she is at all convincing is at the end, when she is suffering from near-catatonic post-traumatic stress syndrome.

So, the first boring horror movie of the year is out of my system. Here's to many more!

Anybody? Hello?