The Netflix True Crime Series Shows The Dark Side Of Viral Fame

By Robert Scucci | Published

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker

Most of the true crime that Netflix has to offer functions as an indictment of the atrocious acts that monstrous individuals commit before getting locked away for their heinous crimes. The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, on the other hand, is a fascinating documentary because not only does it aim to unpack the violent path that Caleb Lawrence McGillvary (more affectionately known as Kai) takes on his journey from obscurity to viral internet fame, but also provides a critical assessment on how the media is responsible for exploiting people who may not necessarily want or need the attention. 

The Fresno Incident

the hatchet wielding hitchhiker

We’re first introduced to Kai when the media covers what’s now known as the Fresno Incident. Kai earned the name “The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker” after subduing a violent criminal with the blunt end of his hatchet, making him a hero in the eyes of the network that reported on the incident. When Kai is interviewed at length by KMPH reporter Jessob Reisbeck, the footage immediately goes viral because Kai’s colorful recounting of the incident paired with his infectious positive attitude made him seem like a wandering free spirit who just wanted to help. 

What starts out as a feel-good special interest story about a young and happy-go-lucky homeless man who enthusiastically yells “smash, smash, SUH-MASH!” in reference to his hatchet swinging, turns into a much more sinister story about Kai and his impulses getting the best of him. 

Kai Finds Fame

the hatchet wielding hitchhiker

After receiving the kind of attention that most aspiring social media influencers would sell their soul for, every single studio executive under the sun wants a piece of Kai. But whether it was intentional or not, The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker quickly points its storytelling to the media machine that wanted to capitalize on his image. Kai finds himself getting more national exposure when he appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but the real-life narrative unravels behind the scenes, as Kai is an incredibly impulsive person who doesn’t necessarily commit to the assignment. 

Things Turn Dark For Kai

the hatchet wielding hitchhiker

Kai remains a homeless nomad until his eventual incarceration throughout The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker, but his newfound fame allows him to also capitalize on the kindness of his fans who meet him on the streets. Though it doesn’t seem like Kai loves all of the attention he’s receiving, he doesn’t resist it either. In a matter of months, Kai continues to spiral, and his increasingly erratic (and sometimes violent) behavior undermines the idea that he’s just some sort of free spirit who wants to live in the moment. 

Not Easy To Watch

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker is a difficult documentary to watch because we learn about Kai’s traumatic upbringing through witness testimonials, and it’s clear that he’s an extremely troubled individual who ran away from home at an early age for reasons not fully explored. It’s easy to interpret his behavior as an obvious cry for help, but his social media presence was quite popular and everybody wanted to cash in on the clicks his content was generating. 

The Critical Response

Critics overwhelmingly agree that The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker originally set out to highlight Kai’s downfall, but are quick to point out that the documentary plays out more like a confession from the personalities and producers who didn’t look into Kai’s life and upbringing before putting him on a pedestal and giving him more attention than he could ever handle.

Kai’s story must have struck a chord, however, as it garnered a 92 percent critical score on Rotten Tomatoes for capturing this period of time in his life. It really makes you wonder if things could have turned out differently for Kai if he was able to continue living in obscurity. 

Watch It On Netflix

The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker will make you think twice about viral fame and all of the baggage that comes along with it. Some people simply aren’t built to be an overnight success, and you can see how by streaming the title on Netflix today.