More people should watch this shocking crime documentary on Netflix

More people should watch this shocking crime documentary on Netflix

More people should watch this shocking crime documentary on Netflix

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Looking for a real Netflix hit that doesn’t require a multi-episode commitment but will leave you thinking for days? Watch The Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker, Netflix’s unofficial nominee for “Show Whose Title Sounds Most Like a Weekly World News Headline.” It’s not one of those multi-episode series, like Dahmer — instead, this documentary unfolds in less than an hour and a half.

Hang on, because it’s getting complicated. 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”? Invented by Australian cartoonist Ben Ward, who goes through pixelated boat on Twitter, he describes 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, made famous 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 kinds 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 at a time when streaming services seem to be launching more and more multi-episode series (see Netflix’s Dahmer), this fast-paced show only lasts an hour and 25 minutes. 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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