Viral celebrities seem to come pretty often nowadays thanks to social media. In a matter of days, a person can go from being totally unknown to an internet icon. However, internet celebrities are no different from normal ones. They are frequently victims of fame, and in many more cases, they are not prepared or don’t have the right type of support to take them through that stage of life. The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker is a new Netflix documentary that will examine one of the most recent and best-documented cases of a viral celebrity going bad.
The Hatcher Wielding Hitchhiker is a Netflix documentary directed by Colette Camden and tells the story of Kai, the hatchet wielding hitchhiker. A young man who has been involved in saving one person from another one during a car accident. Kai ended up using a hatchet to stop the man from killing a woman. When the news arrived on the scene, Kai’s charisma charmed everyone who saw the interview later that day and then after when the entire interview was uploaded on the internet.
The documentary focuses on several topics, including an examination of Kai as a person, and his possible backstory. But also the way that celebrity might have changed him in those mere three months between becoming famous and then killing a person. This is not a spoiler, as it is basically the premise of the entire documentary. Is social media a court that is qualified to make judgments on people? Should social media be a voice that needs to be heard when it comes to elevating people to levels that they are not prepared to be at?
It is all a very complex series of subjects, and the documentary does the best it can to approach each of them. It is successful to a degree, but only because the documentary format kind of restrains the subjects into a level of depth that can only go so far by examining archive footage and doing the classic interviews. You can feel that we could go further, especially when it comes to the influence of social media over some of these people. The documentary brings up Paris Hilton and the Kardashians as examples of internet celebrity but never goes into what made them like that.
Several hypotheses are made surrounding Kai’s 15 minutes of fame, but it is all conjecture from a couple of interviewees and nothing more. It feels like a wasted opportunity not to go further into that aspect of the story. Kai, on the other hand, is quite an interesting character, very mysterious, and chaotic. He is the perfect subject for a study of this level. The documentary does reveal a lot about Kai’s past and the possibilities of abuse and other awful stuff that might have transformed him into who he is now.
However, not being able to talk to Kai is not good. Not being able to give him the chance to do an interview on the same level as everyone else participating in the documentary also feels like something vital that is lacking in the execution of the documentary. We understand it is hard to convince him of doing it and, of course, to be allowed to do it is also a big obstacle because of his situation of being in jail. However, in this type of documentary, it always feels like not having the subject of the documentary speak is a big issue.
Visually, the documentary does very little to set itself apart from other documentaries, especially those released by Netflix. At this point, it seems the documentary genre has reached the point of having the making of one documentary to the teeth when it comes to the presentation. There are a couple of reenactments here and there, but nothing too amazing. The editing is on point, and the progression of the narrative the documentary presents is done very well. It is easy to follow from beginning to end.
The documentary genre keeps doing the same things over and over again. It seems like the form these stories are presented in will not change for a very long time. The format works, but it makes the documentary genre feel kind of dead. Each documentary seems to only be as strong as the subject it is examining, while the rest of the filmmaking seems to be lacking. There must be a way to revamp the genre, but these Netflix documentaries will not do it.
In the end, The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker serves as a solid exploration of a subject that deserves more time and effort when it comes to opening it up to the public. Kai’s examination as a person is quite interesting, but what really is important goes beyond him. The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker ends up being a fine documentary that will present people to a story that they might have forgotten or never heard of. As we have come to realize recently that television and especially social media are not the real world.