The lure of the Netflix documentary, a true 21st Century phenomenon. Lockdown sealed it for most of us, long lonely hours sat in front of the TV. Even the most avid film fans had worn out their DVD collections by the middle of the pandemic, and Netflix became the international go-to with The Tiger King and Don’t fuck with Cats. People who would never normally bat an eyelid at such clickbait were consumed, and I include myself in this. Following the Jeffrey Epstein and Harry and Meghan docs is no mean feat, but Netflix seems to just keep chugging this stuff out with lurid titles and unlikely anti-heroes.
One such figure is Kai, aka The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, who is currently riding high on the Netflix chart. Lured in once again by the sleazy title and the genius trailer, I found myself once again glued to the TV in a way I’d not experienced since the Dahmer serial late last year.
Is it coincidence or just a sick fact that we are drawn in by the presence of these misfits? Reception theories would suggest that it makes us feel better about ourselves, but I’m feeling that we just use these sad figures to entertain us.
Kai Lawrence is the Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker in question. A victim of circumstance or a deranged killer, you decide, viewers! Finding himself on a hitchhike from hell with a deranged racist, hellbent on crushing a black construction worker with his car, then bear-hugging a woman bystander, Kai found himself in the middle of a drama that changed his life in a second. As the driver was squeezing the life from the said woman, Kai leapt into action a la “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” whacking the guy three times with a hatchet (that he just happened to be carrying).
As we watch Kai morph from a homeless hobo with a skateboard into a media sensation, even appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel show, events take a much darker turn, and Kai ends up as the focal point in a police investigation, and I’ll leave it there.
Colette Camden’s documentary itself works well as eye candy for the morbidly curious, seemingly a high percentage of Netflix viewers, and unlike the overlong series structures of those previously mentioned epics, this clocks in at an hour and a half. Mainly because there’s actually not that much to cover; it’s a suppertime dive into the dark side of the media and those it affects.
Sharp editing, nifty use of archive footage and shiny new interview material make for another predictable addition to the Netflix canon of crime, and yes, it is an easy and enjoyable watch.
It is, however, nothing more than contemporary Exploitation. Not a million miles away from Mom and Dad and Reefer Madness, or any amount of those post-war juvenile delinquency movies that summoned blockbusting queues across American cities, audiences in search of a real-life child-birth or an illicit drugs party.
What makes this so exploitative (in my view anyway) is not so much the presentation but the lack of any real psychology here. Kai, along with Tiger lady Carole Baskin, Kitty Killer Luka Magnotta and 2022’s favourite TV cannibal Jeff Dahmer are all clearly suffering from some level of mental illness or, at the very least high-level learning needs. Never do we fully see a case for investigating these conditions and reasoning out their actions, the aim always being to shock, intrigue and demonize whilst also making them unlikely anti-heroes.
Such is the modern-day doc, and Netflix is at the forefront in this new wave of glossy grot exploitation. We watch, we enjoy, and we beg for more. Kai himself has spoken out in anger about Netflix’s depiction of him, which could provide a valid extra chapter to the tale. Watch it and see how a mass media organization has uncovered how previous mass media organizations created a monstar (Yes, monSTAR); it’s perpetual.
Director: Colette Camden
Writer: Colette Camden
Release Date: January 10, 2023 (United States)
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes