Sundance 2011 Review: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN

Brian Kelley

by: Brian Kelley
May 5th, 2011

Editor's note: This review was originally posted as a Sundance Film Festival review on January 28, 2011.

Rating: 4.5/5

Writer: John Davies
Director: Jason Eisener
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Brian Downey, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman
Distributor: Magnet Releasing

In 2007 a trailer contest based around the GRINDHOUSE movie experience offered independent filmmakers the chance to have their work judged by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News and Robert Rodriguez. The winner and internet-sensation HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN was unexpectedly given the 35mm treatment and released with some prints of GRINDHOUSE. Since then, its popularity has skyrocketed to levels so great, a feature film version was put into production. HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is finally a reality and it is the true modern exploitation film for which we've all been waiting.

Rutger Hauer is the Hobo and he has just rolled into a city under siege. After disembarking from his boxcar, the Hobo quickly discovers he is not in a friendly place. The man in charge is crime lord Drake and he rules the city with his two sons Slick and Ivan. They believe in swift and complete justice, decapitating people who owe them money in a bloody spectacle he forces the residents to watch as a warning being their most tame act. At first the Hobo is reluctant to stick his neck out for anyone in this strange place, he has dreams to attend to - he wants to buy a lawnmower and start a business - but every hobo has his limits. His attempts to do things the right way (i.e. involve the police) only further fuel his anger at the horrors around him and, after befriending a prostitute, finally finds the motivation for vigilante justice when he gets his hands on a shotgun.

In typically wonderful grindhouse fashion, the premise is thin but the situations that arise from it are completely over the top. After the Hobo arms himself and begins to make a dent in Drake's legions, the crime boss responds with a bold move in one of the films most hilariously tasteless scenes set to The Trammps' "Disco Infero". The city folk then take to the streets to destroy all hobos at Drake's command. This creates a perfect storm of bloodshed and director Jason Eisener (who also directed the holiday horror short TREEVENGE) takes full advantage of the opportunity. The ways in which human bodies are mangled and destroyed never lack creativity and things remain entertainingly gratuitous rather than gross.

All of this violence and gore doesn't detract from a heart that beats at the core of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. The prostitute, Abby, the Hobo meets is a misguided and sweet girl. The Hobo recognizes this and take her under his wing, she symbolizes the humanity he believes is still present in most individuals. He refuses to retaliate against the armed citizens ordered to track him down, they are simply scared and don't deserve to die. All he wants to do is clean up the city so people like Abby can live their wholesome lives.

The look of the film draws on many sources. One can quickly spot the Argento influences with the eye-shattering, heavily saturated colors combined with a layer of grit and dirt usually reserved for Abel Ferrara's 42nd Street classics. There's a heavy grain invoking the feel not of an older print but rather an authentically cheaper film stock. Sound design is appropriately loud and squishy and the score is absolutely stunning. Each new track reminds one of different periods in the history of exploitation, grindhouse and horror cinema but the entire thing is absolutely cohesive. The score is one of the major reasons the film is such a success.

Rutger Hauer drowns himself in the Hobo role, bringing a straight-shooter sensibility while everything spirals about crazily around him. It grounds HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, keeping it from soaring into complete high camp. His character is gruff with a soft, loving center. Speaking of camp, Brian Downey (as Drake), Gregory Smith (Slick) and Nick Bateman (Ivan) all keep their performance well on the outlandish side of things, their villains are certainly colorful. Molly Dunsworth as Abby is adorable, she keeps the character a lost soul with the thinnest of protective coating. She stands up for herself at first, but one gets the sense her barrier is easily shattered. As a character, she grows the most through the course of the film with her shell hardening until she has the guts to truly stand up for herself.

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is so successful because it constantly delivers on its premise. Working from a simple idea, things are entertaining from minute one and continue to build from there. Tastelessness and gratuitousness are completely intentional and with that in mind, it is always fun for the audience, a real crowd-pleaser. Not soulless, though, each shotgun blast is a heartbeat under the surface- there is a message in the madness. HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN doesn't attempt to ape a style, pay tribute to or parody one either - it is its inspirations. Look out boys and girls, reopen those drive-ins, a legitimate new grindhouse film has arrived.

Don't forget to watch our interview with director Jason Eisener!

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