More People Need to Watch This Highly Unnerving Netflix True Crime Movie

More People Need to Watch This Highly Unnerving Netflix True Crime Movie

Looking for a Netflix-worthy true crime that doesn’t require a multi-episode commitment? A documentary that will keep you thinking for days?

The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker, Netflix’s unofficial nominee for “Show Whose Title Sounds Most Like a Weekly World News Headline,” is a 90-minute documentary film. It’s not one of those long multi-episode series, like Dahmer. Buckle up, because it’s a convoluted and compelling story that will keep you riveted for its reasonable runtime.

In 2013, a man named Jett McBride intentionally hit a California utility worker with his car, then got out of his car and attacked both the injured man and bystanders who tried to help him. But this crime is not at the center of this story. As things got crazy, a hitchhiker in McBride’s car jumped out and ran to the rescue, defending the others by attacking McBride with a hatchet.

The hitchhiker, a Canadian whose name is Caleb Lawrence McGillvary but whose name was Kai, gave a television interview to journalist Jessob Reisbeck. The interview went viral, in part because wide-eyed, talkative, and possibly stoned Pauly Shore look-alike Kai re-enacted the chopping chops, shouting, “Smash, smash, suh-MASH!”

And then…well, do you know the Internet slang term “milkshake duck”? Coined by Australian cartoonist Ben Ward, who goes by pixelatedboat on Twitter, it depicts a common scenario in which the internet falls in love with someone who seems perfectly charming, in this case, a duck drinking milkshakes. But barely five seconds later, we discover that the duck is racist and falls out of favor. (Remember Ken Bone, who rose to fame after asking a question during a town hall-style presidential debate in 2016? He was an early example.)

Kai enjoyed internet fame for just over five seconds. His interview was edited and reposted to millions of views. He’s appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and there’s been talk of giving him his own Kardashians-style reality show. Stephen Colbert joked on his show, “For the first time in human history, people are saying, ‘Boy, we’re so lucky the homeless hitchhiker has a hatchet.'”

Kai showed off his musical talents by grabbing a guitar from a music store and singing for his new friends.


The Netflix show interviews Hollywood producers and journalists who seem completely smitten with Kai’s story – or the story they so badly want it to be. They see him as Chance, the naive gardener from the film and novel Being There, whose very simplicity convinces people that his still waters run deep. They literally don’t know anything about Kai – where he’s from, how he’ll react to everything – but they’re ready to crown him the next hot star. It’s unsettling how quickly they rush to turn an unfortunate hitchhiker with troubling and glaring mental health issues into the next big thing.

But Kai soon reveals he’s not exactly what Hollywood expected. You wonder why those big-paying talent scouts ever thought that a homeless man who carried a hatchet was going to be able to smoothly transform into Brad Pitt. They can’t seem to get Kai into a hotel lobby without him peeing on a desk.

Then, just months after the initial incident that made him famous, Kai is arrested – for murder. The Netflix documentary doesn’t really do a great job of explaining the crime, but glosses over the poor victim. Obviously this is a milkshake duck story, not a true crime story that walks you through the details of the courtroom. We’re not here to get essay transcripts, but to find out how quickly a viral video can bring foreign fame and all sorts of monetary opportunities, and then reality can bring them back to earth with a giant suh-MASH.

The ax hitchhiker has his flaws, that’s for sure. Some claim that Kai was abused as a child, but his mother gives an interview in which she tells a different story that isn’t really touched on. There are suggestions that Kai caused the original attack by drugging Jett McBride before the intentional car crash. Above all, the murder Kai commits is explained in such a sketchy way that I’m still a little confused about it and had to turn to other sources of information online for more details.

But once the show starts running, it is impossible to turn it off. It’s fascinating to see people confess that they fell in love with a viral video star who rose to fame by pure chance and whose fall from grace was immediate and horrific. And in a time when streaming services seem to be launching more and more multi-episode series (see Netflix’s Dahmer), this fast-paced show is just an hour and 25 minutes long. When it’s over, you won’t know every minute detail of Kai’s life and crime, but you’ll be left with some thought-provoking questions about viral fame and its aftermath.

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