April 29th, 2011

Hobo with a Shotgun

Directed by Jason Eisener | Runtime: 86 min

Reviewed by Delme Stephenson  

Director Jason Eisener and writer John Davies have created a truly enjoyable homage to the exploitation film with a lead performance from Rutger Hauer that perfectly balances the film’s explicit graphic tone with skilled confidence. Be warned - in this film our homeless vigilante is ‘Delivering justice, one shell at a time!’. This is a film best suited to those who appreciate exploitation films; recent tributes including (but not limited to) ‘Machete’, ‘Black Dynamite’ and the Tarantino/ Rodriguez ‘Grindhouse’ project. In many ways I think it’s more successful than recent entries in the exploitation homage genre; it’s a film that walks the line between extreme violence and comedy. Simply put, ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ is a blast of violent over-the-top fun which should have you wincing and laughing in equal measure. 

The plot isn’t particularly intensive, nor should it be. We first meet our protagonist, the grizzled Hobo (Rutger Hauer) of the title, riding a freight train. He gets off at Hope Town. The placard greeting those to the city reads, ‘where the line ends and life begins’. However the placard has also been gratified: ‘Hope’ is replaced by ‘Scum’ and ‘Life’ replaced by ‘Hell’. All our Hobo wants to do is buy a lawnmower that costs $49.99 and rebuild his life. However he has indeed walked into urban hell. The city is run by a crime boss called The Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons, Ivan and Slick (all three are the epitome of grandiose evil). Hope Town’s citizens live in fear; it is a city full of corrupt cops, pimps, paedophiles, armed robbers and every kind of degenerate you can possibly think of including supernatural evil (you didn’t think of that right?). The Hobo begs for money and eventually becomes friends with a prostitute with a heart of gold named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) whom he saves from Ivan and Slick. After being beat up by the police, having the word ‘scum’ carved onto his chest and having the indignity of being paid to eat glass, our Hobo finally has enough money to buy his dream. However in the Pawn shop faced with armed robbers the Hobo chooses the Shotgun (also $49.99) over the lawnmower and goes on a rip roaring rampage of revenge whilst also trying to clean up the city of its evil elements…and as the poster says…one shell at a time (alright maybe several shells).              

‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ has a unique genesis. It originally appeared as a fake trailer in the Tarantino/Rodriguez ‘Grindhouse’ double feature and was the second to be developed into a full length film. The first was Rodriguez’s ‘Machete’. I watched ‘Groundhouse’ as it was intended to be watched, which was Rodriguez’s ‘Planet Terror’and Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’ separated by four trailers advertising fake exploitation films. When ‘Grindhouse’ came to Europe, the idea had been dismantled. The films were released separately, the trailers disappeared and 'Death Proof’s' running time was extended. Whether this was financially motivated by its relatively underwhelming box office results in United States or as Tarantino has alluded to, cultural differences and ‘tradition’, who knows? One thing for sure was that Grindhouse was both a cinematic experience and a concept. Essential to that experience and concept were the fake trailers. ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ evaded me until the trailer for the real film started bouncing around the Net. The fake trailer was only originally released with the Canadian theatrical release of ‘Grindhouse’. It had won a competition set up by Rodriguez to promote the Grindhouse experience.

The film is a success because it plays with the Grindhouse concept in a very shrewd way. The film doesn’t have the production values of recent exploitative homage films and yet works fantastically well because the majority of exploitative action/splatter films never really had the financial clout of mainstream films - they worked outside of the box. The film score fits perfectly with the material; it has a wonderful retro electronic feel similar to the music from a good John Carpenter film. It’s as though this film could have actually been made in the 70s/80s. Central to the film's success is the performance of Rutger Hauer who seems to immerse himself in the role. He plays it to the limit and doesn’t let up. ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ is deliciously over-the-top and knows it. It’s not a subtle slice of cinema and its exaggerated humour and excessive violence plays to the sensibilities of the genre whilst also parodying it. I hope it finds an appreciative audience because it takes courage to make a film like this.

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