Hobo with a Shotgun

Posted: May 6, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in Film, Reviews

Hobo with a Shotgun begins its limited release in US theaters today. Starting with just New York and Texas, the film is currently slated to travel across the States throughout the next three months. Check here for updated information on release dates and theaters. Anxious to see it, but can’t find your area on the list? Don’t despair. As we reported earlier, Hobo is already available On Demand everywhere. Now, before we move on to the review, a little history:

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’ve seen the Hobo with a Shotgun trailer that went viral 4 years ago. Robert Rodriguez, during the promotion of the retro double-feature Grindhouse, held a fake trailer contest at South by Southwest 2007. Canadian Jason Eisener and friends won the contest by submitting 2 minutes of utter madness starring David Brunt as a hobo out to punish criminals and clean up the mean streets. If you haven’t seen it, check it out on Youtube immediately. Creative cussing and light gore alert!

Next, Jason Eisener went on to direct Treevenge, a splatter comedy short about Christmas trees enacting bloody vengeance on the humans who tormented them. Also available to watch online. Like the Hobo trailer, it’s reminiscent of 70’s exploitation cinema, goofy and gory, but hey… it’s festive too! Anyway, Treevenge had a very positive reception, even winning a number of awards, touring the festival circuit. With such good press, it’s easy to see why Eisener’s grindhouse trailer went from joke to full feature.

Brunt and Hauer

However, original Hobo star David Brunt was not an actor. He was a man who did indeed live a hard life and whose personality and genuine rage was central to the winning short. It’s sad that he had to be replaced when the film started to come together, but Rutger Hauer is a pretty incredible successor. (Blade Runner! Ladyhawke! The Hitcher!) Even so, I was happy to hear that Hauer acknowledged Brunt’s influence. He spent a lot of time on set getting to know him. Even studying his personality, mannerisms and interests to fuel his performance. (Video: Including his knowledge of bears. You’ll see.)

I think we’ve covered the background well enough to talk about the new movie, yeah? Let’s take a look at that trailer:

Jenny Dreadful’s Review

That trailer (and the original of course) gives you a pretty good indication of what to expect from this movie. If you can’t watch the videos and want to know the basic premise, the official synopsis covers it well:

A train pulls into the station – it’s the end of the line. A Hobo jumps from a freight car, hoping for a fresh start in a new city. Instead, he finds himself trapped in an urban hell. This is a world where criminals rule the streets and Drake, the city’s crime boss, reigns supreme alongside his sadistic murderous sons, Slick & Ivan. Amidst the chaos, the Hobo comes across a pawn shop window displaying a second hand lawn mower. He dreams of making the city a beautiful place and starting a new life for himself. But as the brutality continues to rage around him, he notices a shotgun hanging above the lawn mower… Quickly, he realizes the only way to make a difference in this town is with that gun in his hand and two shells in its chamber.

Hobo with a Shotgun’s 70s Exploitation-inspired roots are certainly evident in the concept, credits sequences and music choices. In this version’s execution, though, I don’t think it’s that simple. I’m reminded most of Ozploitation films where savage over-the-top hooligans roaming the streets for trouble seem to be the norm. (Fair Game, Dead End Drive-In, Mad Max) And some heavy influence from the 80s. Specifically some John Carpenter flavor, including a Casio-style score and scenes reminiscent of both Escape from New York and Halloween, that bleeds in toward the end. This is a retro vision of a world gone mad. A vibrant cartoon Hell.

The colors are wild and brilliant. The setting is vivid and depraved. It embraces bad taste like John Waters or, less favorably, a Troma film. Abusive and corrupt authority, disgusting treatment of women and cheap gore exploding in bursts of cherry-red. It’s over-the-top. The antagonists are not people turning to crime. They’re EVIL. Plucked straight out of 80s comics and video games. The crime king, Drake, might as well be a Batman villain. Or a sadistic gameshow host. His brutal sons, Slick and Ivan, are even named after River City Ransom, an NES brawler. So you know the basic idea. The streets are overrun by vile scum and the hobo bravely fights back. The campy ultraviolence is comedic, but cruel. Perhaps cruel enough to cross the line for many viewers…. The horrific demise of a schoolbus full of children played for laughs being a prime example. Nothing is sacred.

"When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat... covered in razor blades"

Here’s the weird part. Rutger Hauer’s performance of the title character is so good. So compelling. It’s one of the best portrayals of a character with a disability, a difficult life and/or mental problems that I’ve seen on screen. Someone I really would see having a smoke in an AA meeting or the lounge of a mental ward. His character made me sad and it draws the audience’s attention to the hardships endured by people like him. He plays it so straight, so serious, that he doesn’t seem to belong in this movie. He could have taken the train from a moving dramatic feature and jumped off here. Scumtown, a neon-colored pit of violence and terror. When he finally decides he can’t ignore the evils of the city anymore and wants to fight back with.. you guessed it.. a shotgun, he fits more neatly into this environment. Like they’ve tainted him somehow. Hilarious swearing, screaming and exaggerated shotgun blasts that throw the criminals back like a cannon even out the tone.

"I'm gonna sleep in your bloody carcasses tonight!"

At that point, the incongruity is no longer an issue and the film takes its turn to non-stop gorehound fun and action. Once it really got going, I was constantly laughing and having a great time. And, although I’d known about it in advance thanks to an article in the recent issue of Rue Morgue, I was very happy to see David Brunt onscreen as a dirty cop. Cocking a shotgun and screaming his lines into the camera, I couldn’t help but shout “Yeah!”  I salute you, sir. There were fantastic references to the original trailer peppered throughout the movie for fans to appreciate too.

Well, did I like it? While I was watching it, yes! I loved it. Do I like it afterward? I don’t know. I’m conflicted. It seemed easy to consider it cheesy fun and write it off right away, but the truth is that it stayed on my mind. Does the film, in its quieter moments, draw your attention to the very real issue of homelessness? Or are they meant to be funny? Is David Brunt having the time of his life being famous and meeting movie stars or is he being mocked behind his back? I suspect all of the above. So. With everything assessed, yeah, I liked it. I think I’ll buy it, but I know that my crew mates like it considerably less. They weigh in too.

Grinder of "The Plague," armored nightmares for hire.

Additional Notes:

Crowbait: After watching this film I immediately went and re-watched Robocop. Is that a compliment or a slight? Even I’m not sure.

Hobo is ridiculous fun to watch but it touches on the very real problems of homelessness and mental illness and then returns to schlock violence to avoid treating them with any depth. The arrival of power armored hitmen on motorcycles furthers the strangeness and punctuates the cartoonish nature of the latter half of the film. It is enjoyable but suffers from an inconsistency of tone. I see this more and more in films and I wonder if it’s a symptom of the “remix” generation of directors; filmmakers who borrow and recreate from their personal favorite films without a greater overall synthesis of the ideas.

StayFrosty:  I gotta agree with Crow here – I found the tone very inconsistent for much of the film.  Some of the early scenes of horrible crimes meant to set the tone for the world (including child molestation and a direct reference to bum fights, which is a real life horror that makes me sick) are played serious and then later are played for laughs – it’s as if the filmmaker wanted to have a message, but then later decided “Screw it!  More blood and blowtorching of kids!”  It’s not that I’m against cinematic violence (or clearly, I would be writing for the wrong blog), I just think  the changes in tone detract from the movie because they seem without purpose.

On the positive side, once the film chose its tone and decided to become a candy colored, over the top nightmare, it improved greatly.  This happened a little after the halfway mark in my estimation.  But once that baby started rolling, it was a great ride.  I also loved the extremely saturated colors throughout the film – I think it really helped both establish the world and keep that exploitation feel.  JennyD already went over this, but I found many parts of it similar in tone to some of John Carpenter’s work, specifically “Escape from New York” and “Escape from L.A.”.  And of course I love that.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?

Jenny Dreadful: It’s hard to recall, but I don’t think so. Outside of the sole female lead Abby, the “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” archetype we’re all so familiar with by now, there aren’t many women with speaking parts. I am consoled by the fact that Abby does become a fun character in the finale, but we’re not exactly talking about a triumph for feminism here.

Would we Recommend?

Jenny Dreadful: If you can enjoy ultraviolence, some cartoony splatter and bad taste in the style of old-school Exploitation cinema, an enthusiastic yes. If you’re unsure, test the waters for 15 minutes with Treevenge and see how you feel about the director’s approach.

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