What the title says: Hobo with a Shotgun

FILM, Film Festivals

At the New Zealand International Film Festival: Arthouse makes way for Grindhouse in this straight-shooting exploitation flick.

Jason Eisener’s choice of title for his debut feature is incredibly apt. Not only does it fit perfectly with its chosen genre, but it describes exactly what the viewer can expect without pretensions to anything other than what it is: a Hobo with a Shotgun.

Screen legend and ’80s pulp icon Rutger Hauer (who made his name in Dutch cinema with films such as Turkish Delight and Keetje Tippel for Paul Verhoeven, before embarking to Hollywood) seems like the only choice to play the grizzled titular hobo. An exercise in low-budget exploitation to the nth degree, Hobo’s narrative formula is simple and direct: everyone in Scum Town (and I mean everyone) is either engaged in violent and lewd criminal activity, or is being exploited by those selfsame miscreants. Our hobo’s path is clear: dreams of purchasing a lawnmower (as in stability and normalcy) have to be put aside to take up a shotgun, ‘cause you know, somebody has to sweep the streets clean and it ain’t gonna be those dirty, crooked cops! Hobo ably earns its R18 rating as a gloriously insane bloodbath ensues, encapsulating the town’s hookers, homeless, and hoodlums in its warm slew of violence and viscera.

Many will know the genesis of director Eisener’s film already, but for those who do not, let me recap. During their joint Grindhouse project (a double bill of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof) , Tarantino decided they should include grindhouse-style trailers for fake films to play between the two features. Soon after, some director friends heard about the idea (Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie), got excited, and decided to join the project in a fake-trailer capacity. Subsequently, at SXSW 2007, Rodriguez held a grindhouse trailer competition as part of a ‘Grindhouse 101’ class he was running. Aspiring Canadian filmmaker Eisener won the competition with an innovative two-minute trailer for a then-fake film entitled Hobo with a Shotgun. Eisener’s short went on to play as part of the fake trailer set in a number of Canadian Grindhouse screenings. Skip ahead a few years, and Hobo is now a bona fide feature, starring Rutger Hauer.

Right from the opening sequence, Eisener stamps a stylized B-grade tone on the film via lurid, over-saturated colour grading. I must admit that I found this a little difficult to watch initially, but it really does a great job of mirroring the off-colour nature of the movie, while also removing any sense of reality from it. Characterisation is as over-the-top as the visuals. Self-proclaimed town father-cum-crime boss Drake (Brian Downey) is obsessed with cheap game show theatrics matched with extreme facial close-ups during his crazy rants—though full credit to the filmmakers for giving him an entertaining public execution schtick. Drake’s sons live up (or should that be down) to their father, looking for all the world like they just stepped off the set of Risky Business. Both are sadistically violent, entitled bastards out for pleasure and mayhem, and are distinguishable only in that one is obviously the brains, and the other is the brawn. Hobo even has a ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ in Hauer’s single ally, Abby (Molly Dunsworth), who gives him a bed to sleep in and a Flight of the Conchords-style animal-themed sweatshirt to wear. Unsurprisingly, by the end of the picture, Abby undergoes a forced transformation into an unhinged-psycho-bitch-from-hell à la Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) from Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror hit, The Descent.

It may well be true that acting, scripting, and camerawork all leave a lot to be desired, but this is all as it should be. Viscera and memorably bad one-liners flow freely and in equal measure from Hobo’s beginning to gory end. Essentially, Eisener has taken his best shot at creating an authentic grindhouse exploitation experience in the mould of his, and the film’s, inspiration. To top it all off, Hobo is nothing if not a riotous laugh of a ride. I’m sure Tarantino and Rodriguez are proud cinematic parents.

‘Hobo with a Shotgun’, Dir. Jason Eisener
Canada/USA, 2011; 86 minutes
Featuring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman, Robb Wells.
Screening: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin. For New Zealand International Film Festival dates, programme details, and screenings in other regions, visit nzff.co.nz.

Filed under: FILM, Film Festivals

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Jacob Powell has been contributing to The Lumière Reader since 2005. He writes freelance on cinema and other topics both online and occasionally in print. He also works as an Auckland-based university librarian specialising in digital AV media and research collections.