“ Genre: Action & Adventure / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Jason Eisener / Actors: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman, Drew O'Hara ... / Blu-ray released 2011-08-01 at Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment „
Sometimes, being insane in your filmmaking isn't enough. To make something special, a filmmaker requires a spark of creativity to light the flames of a madness explosion. Hobo with a Shotgun is a Hiroshima of creative insanity. Director Jason Eisener has not only paid homage to 70s exploitation films, he's made a film that could easily have stood amongst it ranks. Every time you think the movie can't become any more crazy, any more grotesque, or any more disgusting, it takes out its penis and starts masturbating in public while raving about how vampire pandas are running an underground rap scene in Philadelphia as a pre-text to shut down naked human bullfighting.
The film is based off a fake trailer Eisener made for the 2007 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodrigues flick Grindhouse. Expanded in to a feature film, the story centers on a hobo (Rutger Hauer) who has rode the rails to Hope Fuck Town, the unhappiest place on Earth if you're anyone but the sadistic freaks who run it. Running the show is Drake (Brian Downey), a gangster with the attitude of a game show host, and his two sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). The murder-happy brothers make Uday and Qusay Hussein look like Goofus and Gallant. As the Drake and his family murder anyone they want in the most disgusting-yet-imaginative ways possible, the hobo, with the help of a gold-hearted hooker (Molly Dunsworth), decides justice needs to come to the city and that the best delivery method for said justice is with a shotgun.
I don't want to spoil a single thing about this movie. So much of it rests on shock value, but the film is surprisingly quotable in its awful dialogue. Almost everyone but Hauer is giving exaggerated performances so they can match the tone of the movie. Hauer wisely keeps his character low-key and lets his shotgun do the talking. It's a smart move because Eisener wants to show that the hobo is a mad man, but not necessarily a madman.
But when the hobo who makes rambling speeches about bears is your calm center of the universe, you begin to have an idea of how demented this movie is. Fuck Town never met an over-saturated color it didn't like. The camera dips and zooms and tilts around the psychotic brothers and the scenes of bizarre bloodshed. The movie not only copies the look of grindhouse movies, but understands how to best capture the story it's trying to tell.
It's not enough to be sick and twisted to make a movie like Hobo with a Shotgun. You need to be creative. It's not enough to simply have a guy run around a shoot people with a shotgun. You need to surprise the audience and tap into their darkest sense of humor and keep the tone goofy enough so that the horrific acts won't send you out of the theater in disgust. Eisener pulls it off brilliantly and every time you think the film can't shock you any more, it tops itself. My only worry about the movie is how it will play on repeat viewings when so much of the humor and horror is reliant on shock value.
If I have one problem with the movie, it's that early on, the bad guys have an opportunity to kill the hobo and they decide not to even though it's been established that they'll kill anyone for no reason whatsoever. I don't mind that it's a stupid plot development. The movie is nothing if not gleefully stupid. I mind that Eisener doesn't bother to come up with a stupid reason to support the bad guys' decision. For a movie where stupidity is given a great big hug and all the ice cream it wants, that small hiccup is a bit off-putting.
But other than that minor misstep, Hobo with a Shotgun is the most fun I've had at a Sundance screening so far and one of the most fun movies I've seen in years. It reminds me of one of my other favorite campy, gruesome exploitation films, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. In its craziest fever dreams, the bloated, star-packed Machete couldn't hope to touch the madness of Eisener's debut feature. Enjoy the insanity.
As a gory and gruesome throwback to sleazy exploitation films, Hobo with a Shotgun is very much a love-it-or-hate-it affair - except to say that it's like Marmite isn't enough. It's more like being waterboarded with Marmite; aside from a niche who get down with this kind of thing, the majority of people are going to be pretty appalled by this film.
I've got a fairly high threshold for questionable-taste movies. I sat through The Human Centipede, I loved The Skin I Live In and I admired - if not exactly enjoyed - Irreversible. Nonetheless, while there are fun moments here, this didn't do it for me.
With a title like Hobo with a Shotgun, there's not a lot left to say about the plot - that's about as far as it goes. Rutger Hauer's Hobo arrives at Scum Town looking for a new start in life (although with a name like that, you'd think he might get back on the train). He dreams of starting up a lawn-mowing business in some backwater idyll - although first he's got to clean up this town. With a shotgun.
This is very much a homage to the halcyon days of exploitation films, and in this sense, HWAS hits the mark - from the over the top violence to the wanton bloodshed, the hackneyed dialogue and low-budget visual style, this is a dark sensory overload with tongue wedged firmly in cheek.
This said, the film managed to lose me somewhere between the school bus inferno, the lawnmower de-limbing and the glass-munching. After a while, the sense of black humour disappears, and the film becomes a bit of a grim exercise in trying too hard to shock. There's potential for a lot of bloody fun in this film, but it's only the first part that's effectively realised.
HWAS came from the same origins as Machete - another silly exploitation flick that manages to be everything this one should have aspired to. Both were spoof trailers attached to the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature Grindhouse - yet while Machete (starring a brilliant Danny Trejo and boasting a string of impressive cameos) became even better in the transition from absurd trailer to feature-length film, Hobo with a Shotgun goes the other way.
Machete features a lot of the same motifs - an aging outcast pitched into battle against a host of shady underworld characters with friends in high places, an attractive sidekick who implausibly decides to ally herself with the protagonist, ludicrous violence and a knowing sense of self-deprecation. The difference is in the execution. Machete's characters are at least in some way likeable; even the villains are charismatic - but in HWAS, no-one is particularly sympathetic, and you end up rooting for the Hobo more or less by default. It's difficult to care about anyone's fate, and even in such a palpably silly niche of films, this matters.
A sister film to Machete only really in origin, HWAS is pretty absent of well-known actors - Rutger Hauer is a convincing enough Hobo, although he has little to do except be dirty and growl at people. And munch on glass. Why Molly Dunsworth's Abby decides Team Hobo is the winning place to be isn't really clear, but she's a moderately interesting character. Otherwise, the cast are just a stream of faceless grunts who contribute little of note.
Perhaps I'm missing the point - but I don't think so. I get that it's at once a tribute and a pastiche of the video nasty genre, and as such, slick, high-quality film-making isn't what this is aiming for. Nonetheless, you've got to give people a reason to watch, or you're only appealing to a real niche of exploitation-movie fans. There's not a lot here for anyone else.
There's not much to shout about when it comes to the Blu-Ray release. Although shot in a crummy, low-budget style, there's plenty of colour and action in the film, and this comes through nicely - but on the whole, you're better off with the standard DVD version, especially as there's not likely to be a second viewing in the offing.