Hobo With a Shotgun
Director: Jason Eisener
Canadian horror/comedy/action-movie Hobo With a Shotgun is, indeed, a blast. A gleefully tasteless romp with something to offend just about everyone, at its best it plays like a demented collaboration between John Waters, Dario Argento and John Carpenter – and with each of those maestros either long out of action or long out of form, its arrival on our cinema-screens is a decidedly welcome development.
Of course, as a dutiful, full-blooded homage to cheap-and-cheesy 1980s exploitation pictures, it perhaps should ideally be viewed on grainy, warped VHS – but as it’s also a cracking addition to the unashamedy disreputable Midnight Movie sub-genre, it deserves to play (as it’s already done all over the world’s film-festival circuit) after dark to appreciative adult audiences willing and able to tune into its gross, sometimes grotesque humour.
Director Eisener and his co-writer John Davies originally devised Hobo With a Shotgun - a classic example of a one-line “pitch” if ever there was one – as a fake trailer, an entry into a competition organised to promote Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s ill-fated Grindhouse double-bill. What started as a one-joke gag – reportedly made on a $200 budget – has been expanded to full feature length, and while there’s perhaps inevitably a certain wayward, ragged unevenness to proceedings, the level of invention and comedy remains at a surprisingly high level from start to finish.
Front and centre pretty much throughout is the (inevitably nameless) Hobo – played with a grizzled, gnarled gravitas by Dutch veteran Rutger Hauer, enjoying an unlikely return to leading-man status after a couple of decades in supporting roles. Hauer sensibly plays a pretty straight bat, all the more amusing in contrast to the garish ludicrousness of the plot and mise-en-scene in which his taciturn character becomes unwittingly enmeshed.
Hopping off a train at semi-random, the sixtysomething Hobo finds himself in a remote, sleazy, near-lawless settlement officially named Hope Town – but referred to as Scum Town by most of its beleaguered residents. A kind of anarchic/fascistic “satanic Dystopia”, Scum Town is ruthlessly controlled by a criminal kingpin known only as The Drake (Brian Downey), his sadistic rule enforced by his similarly loathsome and amoral sons Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith).
Though essentially a loner who’s usually content to mind his own business, the Hobo is spurred to action by witnessing Scum Town’s daily run of cruel depravity – and after (in one of the cornier aspects of a deliberatly corny synopsis) befriending kind-hearted sex-worker Abby (Molly Dunsworth). His revolt against The Drake leads to the tinpot dictator announcing a war on the town’s many homeless people – and the escalation of the picture’s body-count towards a blood-soaked finale worthy of Jacobean revenge-tragedies.
A savagely satirical political parable wrapped up in a spectacularly violent, pulpy, western-style story (Stephen King is perhaps another key cultural touchstone), Hobo with a Shotgun is an undeniably cartoonish romp. In the words of their punk-rock compatriots NoMeansNo, “too much is not enough” for Eisener and Davies, who in their first feature barrel us along at a relentlessly fast clip, all the while preventing proceedings from descending into mere kitschy, in-jokey, fan-boy spoofery. Of course, it helps no end that they have a bona fide action star anchoring proceedings in the central role – and while it can’t quite match the climax of Blade Runner in terms of poetry, pathos and grandeur, this is certainly Rutger’s finest “hauer” in many a long year.
4th July, 2011
(written for the 13th July edition of Tribune magazine)