Sometimes a film like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life comes along and causes heartfelt introspection and vociforous debate amongst moviegoers, and sometimes a film comes along and shows you Rutger Hauer blasting chunks out of people’s midsections using a rusty twelve gauge. Hobo With A Shotgun is the latter kind, if you can believe it. A film lacking all pretense and moral value, Hobo is an extended comedy sketch/horror pastiche that bore it’s origins from a contest winning spoof trailer (which you can view here) and never deviates from that central joke.
The film, arguably then, had a very low bar to clear in the artistic stakes, yet first-time director Jason Eisener imbues his debut with distinct visual textures and enough genre-jokes to make these 90 minutes much more entertaining than any full-length feature based on a spoof-trailer has any right to be.
The story unfolds in what must be one of the most heinous places ever realised on screen, Hope Town. With streets littered with human trash, murderers, rapists and even comically depicted paedophiles, it’s no wonder that the graffitied walls have deemed the place the more appropriately named ‘Scum Town’. When our hapless hobo saunters into view and ultimately becomes distraught at the state of depravity and the corrupt nature of the local police, he reluctantly takes it upon himself –in prototypical Western fashion– to become the town’s vigilante hero.
However in this universe being a “hero” naturally involves taking out the crime kingpins infesting the town in the most violent and bloody ways imaginable. Fans of thickly syruped gore will have a hard time finding a better candidate for bloodiest film of the year. But Hobo also holds the title of most imaginative. Set-pieces such as the opening Thunder Dome-esque public execution involving rope and a head poking out of a sewer cover demonstrates Eisener’s fertile imagination for violence — something firmly rooted in the high-concept Mad Max/Running Man/Escape From LA killfests of the ‘80s. Hobo absorbs all of these outdated concepts and relishes in their absurdity onscreen.
Eisener also humorously balances the wanton, violent indulgence of the film’s modus operandi with laughably trite and crude emotional anchors. The Hobo befriends an attractive young hooker (Molly Dunsworth) who provides the basis for a lot of the film’s funniest lines. Although at no point are we ever laughing at the expense of the film. We’re all in on the joke, and the joke is mainly the ‘80s.
Vivid neon lighting schemes that play with unconventional palettes also help conjure that time period, and it’s commitment to detail in it’s pastiche is certainly one of the film’s most admirable traits. A pulpy action flick from the ‘80s wouldnt’ve been respectable without a cheesy, motivational pop hit playing out the credits and lo and behold, Hobo With A Shotgun ends with one of the cheesiest.
Hobo is of course not without precedent. In recent years there has been a quiet revival of sorts of the low-budget grindhouse aesthetic, mainly headed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s joint Grindhouse venture and it’s subsequent spin-offs Machete and the upcoming Thanksgiving. The bottom line is if you liked those offerings (particularly Rodriguez’s similar gore-medy Planet Terror), you’ll find a lot to like here.