‘Ride’: How Hitchcock Inspired a Thriller About the Uber Rider From Hell
Adapting a classic horror style for the digital age.
Everyone occasionally gets paranoid about whether or not they can trust their Uber driver, but with even less vetting for riders, who knows what kind of killers, creeps, or weirdos might hop into a driver’s back seat? At least, that’s the premise of Ride, a high-octane thriller from writer-director Jeremy Ungar that may have you thinking twice before you sign up to work Uber.
“My dream was, let’s make a Hitchcock movie in an Uber,” Ungar tells Inverse.
The result is a film that blends classic cinematic storytelling with extremely contemporary technology. Ride feels like a story we’ve seen before, but it also “couldn’t take place any other time period.”
"Let’s make a Hitchcock movie in an Uber. — Jeremy Ungar
Ride stars Jessie T. Usher as a James, a ride-share driver that hits it off with an attractive female passenger named Jessica (Bella Thorne) before dropping her off. After his next fare, Bruno (Will Brill), convinces James to go back and bring Jessica along for a wild night of fun, things take a turn towards the hellish. Bruno forces them both into a deadly game largely set inside James’ car.
“That’s something I’ve always been fascinated by — contained spaces,” Ungar said. For Ride that contained space happens to be James’ Prius. Ungar devised a complicated moving trailer that cruised around Los Angeles with the Prius, all to capture unique footage of the car in motion and stopped.
But why is ride-sharing such a pointedly horrifying cautionary tale for Ungar?
“I looked up recently when my first Uber ride I ever took was,” he said. “The app just records everything you ever do. The first Uber ride I ever took was on January 24, 2014. It was the night before my birthday and I went to a bar in Silver Lake. I wrote the script for Ride in January 2015, and I was kind of shocked by how in the course of a year, this thing I had never done before became such an integral part of my life, and I think of many people’s lives.”
Ride-sharing is the new norm of transport for a lot of people, especially those living in cities. As we’ve all adjusted to integrating it as part of everyday life, we often forget the strangeness of the core idea: putting one’s trust — and life — entirely in the hands of a stranger. It’s so common a practice that “Ubering” has become a verb, even when Ride technically takes place in a Lyft.
“It was all this insane idea where you get into a stranger’s car and they drive you somewhere,” Ungar said. “I felt like the interaction you have in an Uber is so unique. There’s this specific and sometimes intimate interaction with someone you don’t know and will never see again.” In a deeply unsettling way, Uber is almost the perfect, albeit unexpected, setting for a horror story.
“Uber drivers are vetted,” Ungar noted. “You do hear horrible stories sometimes, but there are background checks and things like that in place. But there aren’t those kind of protections for the drivers, and that was interesting to me.” Drivers never really know what to expect when they pick up a new passenger. Anyone can sign up for free and create an account, so who really knows what kind of person they are? If that base premise isn’t anxiety-inducing enough, Ride utilizes a claustrophobic, theatrical kind of storytelling.
Ride involves a lot of long takes and close-up shots in close quarters. By focusing on the actors themselves and the dialogue in confined spaces, the film winds up feeling like a play as opposed to a movie.
“Probably the first director I was really into as a kid was Hitchcock,” Ungar explained. “Watching things like Ropes or Lifeboats. They absolutely could be plays, but when done right contained things can feel even more cinematic than certain things that are much more epic or vast in scope.”
That quality to Ride has everything to do with closed spaces and using visual variety despite shooting in the same location over and over, letting in the outside world in dynamic ways to build the mood.
“I wanted to do something where I could really sink my teeth with great actors and juicy dialogue that was self-contained,” Ungar explained. “Something that could feel like a play while also being cinematic at the same time.” Inside an Uber offered the perfect setting for that.
Without spoiling the surprising places the film goes, Ride incites paranoia in the audience by aiming for character-driven realism. We never really know who the Uber drivers or riders are, so what if they’re actually really sinister? I did want to make a movie that would make people feel like this could happen to me,” Ungar said. “Then to just kind of drop the hint that we’re super trusting of people and maybe we shouldn’t be just because our phones tell us too.”
Maybe that’ll make all of us think twice next time before calling that late-night Uber.
Ride is now in select theaters and hits Blu-ray and DVD on December 4.
Additional reporting by Eric Francisco.
Related video: Guillermo del Toro Explains What Makes Alfred Hitchcock So Great.