Though Hobo With a Shotgun started as a faux-trailer entered in a “Create your own Grindhouse-esque trailer” contest being held by Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez around the time they released their own Grindhouse double-feature, the result of a dark joke between director Jason Eisener and a couple of his friends. The faux-trailer won the contest, ended up being fleshed out into a full screenplay, recruited Rutger Hauer as the titular Hobo before cameras rolled, then proceeded to mop the floor with Rodriguez’ own Machete (another faux-trailer-turned-actual-movie associated with Grindhouse) amongst critics. Now it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray, and Eisener’s on his way to being another film-geek-friendly, gen-yoo-whine movie director. Not bad for something that started life as a joke between friends. Question is, is it any good? Find out in our Hobo With a Shotgun review, after the jump…
It’s hard to review a film like Hobo With a Shotgun, because Hobo With a Shotgun isn’t really “just another movie awaiting review”. Watching Hobo With a Shotgun is less a movie and more of a movie-watching-experience, something I suspect is best appreciated in a crowded theater filled with drunks and gore-hounds. To be sure, it’s got all the hallmarks of a real movie– there’s a plot, actors, a few character archs, and a resolution– but it’s really just a gore-machine turned up to 11, a primary-colored freakshow designed to shock, disturb, or excite its audience from the very first scene (which features a dude being brutally– and creatively– decapitated before a bikini-clad coke-whore rushes over to the body and dances in the jet of blood that erupts from the corpse’s now-headless body). If it weren’t so well-crafted and hilarious (in spots), it might be a Troma film.
That said, I enjoyed the hell out of Hobo With a Shotgun, and I suspect that anyone who’d take the time to read a review for a film titled Hobo With a Shotgun will feel the same way. While I can’t tell you that Eisener’s film contains a brilliant plot, star-making performances, a razor-sharp script, or any of the other things a “great film” might have, I can tell you that it’s almost exactly what you’re expecting it to be…and a little bit more. See, it would’ve been really easy for Eisener to rest on his laurels and turn in something exactly like a Troma film, but that’s not what Eisener did: he went the extra mile (as Canadians are wont to do), and that– as Robert Frost might say– made all the difference.
For one thing, Hobo With a Shotgun looks unlike almost any other movie you’ve ever seen. The film’s awash in primary colors and bizarre lighting, falling somewhere between Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. The very first shot of the film– wherein the titular Hobo comes rolling into Hope Town on a cherry-red choo-choo train– pops right off the screen and into your drunken face (yes, you should be drunk while watching Hobo With a Shotgun), and it doesn’t let up for the film’s entire 86 minute running time. From end to end, it looks completely singular. The obvious choice would’ve been dark and gloomy, lots of greys and blacks and earth tones…but Eisener went for a more comic book-y style, one that serves a dual purpose: it allows the audience to laugh at the hysterical violence on display a little easier, and two, it accentuates the hyper-real “reality” that John Davies’ script puts onscreen. Really, it looks awesome.
Secondly: the film’s script really does provide more than one might have expected to find here. The Hobo arrives in Hope Town with just one, simple wish: maybe he can save up enough money to buy a lawn mower, and maybe then he’ll earn enough money for a home. But upon arriving in Hope Town, it becomes evident that this little dream’s going to be a lot harder to put into action than the Hobo might’ve thought: the town’s awash in crime, terrorized by a local crime lord– The Drake– and his two sons.
Now, the film could’ve been about the Hobo fighting petty street crimes and evading police on his way to vigilante-infamy (and it kinda is), but Eisener’s film delivers much more: The Drake’s a character worthy of his own film, and his villainous sons are each more demented than the last. Furthermore, we don’t just see “petty street crimes”: we see bizarre, twisted tableaux of criminality (a guy dressed as Santa jerking off while staring at a playground, a dude strung up and beaten with baseball bats by even more bikini-clad coke whores, a schoolbus filled with children being torched with a flamethrower). Everything about the film’s pitched about two steps above where you’d expect it to land.
Finally– and most importantly–Eisener went above-and-beyond in the casting of Rutger Hauer. If there’s another human being on the planet right now who’d be a better fit for the role of Hobo With a Shotgun, I’d be surprised. In the original faux-trailer, the role of the Hobo was played by an unknown named David Brunt (he appears here, briefly, in a minor role). In bringing the film to feature-length, Eisener could’ve had the same guy reprise the role, or aimed somewhere in-between “unknown” and “film-geek demigod”, but he didn’t: he aimed for Hauer, and…man, did it pay off. More than any other creative choice Eisener made in bringing this film to life, the casting of Rutger Hauter is the most important: it legitimizes the film, it means that the audience will actually sympathize (in scattered moments) with the Hobo, it means that the audience knows the Hobo isn’t to be fucked with before the film’s villains even encounter him.
It’s a brilliant piece of casting, and Hauer sells every minute that he’s onscreen. One suspects that Eisener didn’t expect anyone to “feel” anything (other than a profound love of gore, exploitation, and sleaze) while watching Hobo With a Shotgun, and– for the most part– you won’t. But thanks to Hauer’s performance, there are infrequent moments (such as an early scene where the Hobo is compelled to eat glass on-camera for a scuzzy Bum Fights-sorta videographer) where Hauer will make you care about his character. Even the pseudo-sappy music that Eisener pipes over the scenes where the Hobo‘s being introspective can’t diminish the effect Hauer will have on the viewer: he might be surrounded by lunacy, ultraviolence, and lit with neon lights, but he’ll make you give a tenth of a shit about the Hobo before this thing’s said and done. We can credit Hauer for the performance, but we also gotta credit Eisener for casting him in the first place.
The 2-Disc DVD I received for review came packaged with a ton of extras. The first features the film with something called “Shotgun Mode”, wherein a little crosshair-icon will appear onscreen throughout the film. Press the “enter” button on your remote when you see it, and the film will show you some behind-the-scenes stuff. Eh, pretty cool, but I’ve seen that kinda thing before. More interesting are the two commentaries attached here: the first features Eisener and Rutger Hauer (if you’re wondering how the hell this pairing occurred, this commentary will explain it from both sides), while the second features Eisener, writer John Davies, producer Rob Cotterill, and the original Hobo, David Brunt (odd choice, that, but nice enough for them to do for the guy). The second disc features a “Making Of” featurette, a raft of deleted scenes, an alternate ending (the original’s better), a handful of video blogs, interviews with Hauer and Eisener from Fangoria, the original Hobo With a Shotgun faux-trailer, and the faux-trailer that Hobo inspired, Van Gore (definitely worth checking out if you’ve not seen it online). If I have any complaints about this set, it’s that I don’t own it on Blu-ray: this is as full a package as one could possibly hope for with this film, and if you’re a fan, you’ll absolutely spend time with each one. This is a case where the double-disc version is absolutely worth picking up over the standard version.
One could call Hobo With a Shotgun garish, obnoxious, annoying, ugly, offensively violent, disturbing– and about a thousand other words that most films wouldn’t want dropped in their direction– and none of that would be untrue. But Hobo With a Shotgun is also an electric piece of filmmaking, one that proves that Jason Eisener is a talent worth watching and that Rutger Hauer’s still got it. If you like “weird”, “violent”, and “over the top”, you absolutely need to check this thing out: it’ll kick your ass.
My Grade? A-