Directed by Rupert Bryan
Survival horror tends to be nasty and unpleasant by definition. Innocent folks pushed to breaking points in a desperate battle for survival, often times becoming as bad (if not worse) than their antagonists in a cruel twist of fate. The Hike is a real oddity in this subgenre, though. It’s enjoyable, if unspectacular, and not without some grueling moments. It’s also pretty rote: Group of girls go into the woods for a weekend getaway, run afoul of some murderous creeps and fight for their very lives.
The biggest problem with The Hike is the execution. This is the kind of exploitative material that would’ve been right at home in a grindhouse theater in the 1970s: people are dispatched in all sorts of horrible ways, and there’s more than enough sexual violence imposed upon our protagonists. It just never manages to be as shocking or disturbing as it wants to be, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit weightless. Once the girls inevitably turn the tide against their attackers, the violence never goes far enough in making this a memorable / satisfying / horrific experience. There is a misogynistic streak to our villains, making them an easily detestable bunch, but all that accomplishes is making this feel like a lesser version of I Spit on Your Grave.
And that would be fine if the story was something special. It’s not. Movies of this ilk don’t need to revel in their most sensational aspects if there’s more going on. But The Hike plays out with such familiarity that it becomes difficult to not accuse it of telegraphing all of its ‘surprises’. Red herrings are obvious, characters are stupid and the script seems like it does everything in its power to keep these ladies separated. Like when one girl is sent off on her own to pick firewood, despite the fact that everyone else is seen sitting around the fire (guess they already had wood?) doing nothing. And later, said girl’s disappearance is used to separate the rest of the group, but they still can’t even be bothered to worry that much – stripping down to their underwear for a quick moonlight dip before continuing to search for their missing, possibly dead or injured friend. Great group of people we’ve got here.
Having said that, The Hike isn’t a bad watch. It’s well shot, and the cast is generally good, even if the script skimps a bit on characterization. Our leading lady (Zara Phythian) is a war veteran, and she has a moment or two to reflect on the horrors of that experience, but it’s essentially all we have to go on. No greater sense of character, and there’s even less for the rest of the girls. It doesn’t necessarily dampen the experience, but it certainly doesn’t distinguish The Hike from similar films, either. It seems like director / co-writer Rupert Bryan was going for the kind of female bonding that grounded The Descent in reality, but here these girls never really amount to much more than fodder.
Having said that, Bryan has made an outing that moves at a quick clip (it’s only 82 minutes long), and manages some nice little genre-specific moments along the way. But one can’t help but feel we got cheated out of some real suspenseful moments as the movie never quite milks its situations for all they’re worth.
And that’s the film’s problem in general. The Hike just doesn’t stand out. It’s not all that shocking or upsetting (unless you can’t handle rape in any form), and it isn’t terribly concerned with breaking any new ground. Instead it plays like something of a retread. A movie that is easily watchable – hell, if this is your cup of tea, I’d even say it’s worth an afternoon viewing – even if it never quite resonates with the viewer once it’s finished. I firmly believe Bryan’s heart was in the right place while making this, and I look forward to him taking another stab at modern-day exploitation fare in the future. The Hike is a solid try that never manages to be anything more.
2 1/2 out of 5