[This review is a reprint of my review that ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Hobo with a Shotgun blasts its way into US theaters this weekend.]
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 cans of Progresso soup are running a shadow government.
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. Hobo with a Shotgun isn’t a minute longer than it needs to be and will have you rolling with laughter if you’re sick enough to enjoy the insanity.