Horror isn’t about gore and monsters. That’s just good fun. Real horror is about powerlessness. A good horror story demands you empathize with the characters. With that connection established, you experience their fear from an out-of-body vantage point. Terrifying things are happening and you have no influence over when they’re going to stop.
Hitchers captures that feeling in a story about guilt, ghosts, and alcohol. Devastatingly sad before the prologue even ends, Will McIntosh then thrusts the reader into a first-person view of a city under terrorist attack. In the aftermath, stunned survivors find in themselves afflicted with bizarre post-traumatic stress symptoms. They shout one-sided conversations in retching, guttural voices. Their arms shake and shiver uncontrollably. And gradually, they find themselves taken over by the spirits of the dead for minutes, then hours, then days at a time.
For Finn Darby, that means being a prisoner in his own body as his grandfather takes possession of him in ever more harrowing incidents. The ghosts in Hitchers are selfish, hungry personalities with little regard for the bodies they find themselves inhabiting. McIntosh grounds this phenomena in reality by making Finn’s grandfather a vindictive alcoholic. When his grandfather’s not sabotaging Finn’s work, finances, and relationships, he’s drinking, leaving Finn to deal with hangovers and withdrawal symptoms whenever he regains consciousness. Finn suffers for his grandfather’s actions, and it’s a terrifying depiction of what it must feel like to be possessed made real by mirroring the experiences of a blackout drunk. Faced with the prospect of losing control entirely, Finn begins to take desperate actions to end his misery.
There’s no contrived conspiracy here. The ghosts aren’t part of an ill-defined plot to take back the world for Hell. The terrorist attack that preceded their return is merely a coincidence. This is just a gut-wrenching story of survivor’s guilt that doubles as a terrifying portrait of alcohol addiction. That’s all it needs to be scary.