Taking the suite at a grindhouse
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, May 20, 2011
“Hobo With a Shotgun” is a sophisticated costume drama loosely derived from an unpublished Jane Austen novel about an orphaned teenage girl who overcomes poverty, romances a French aristocrat and discovers her true calling as a composer of harpsichord concertos during the Renaissance.
Nah, I’m only joking. It’s actually about a hobo with a shotgun.
The reason we’re paying attention to this bloody — and bloody good — gore fest is because first-time filmmaker Jason Eisener has studied the exploitation genre’s dirty tricks, and “Hobo” breathes new life into the demented realm of grindhouse cinema — a world that had grown pretty stale to this point.
Eisener’s personal story has become the stuff of legend. Back in 2007, the aspiring filmmaker entered an Internet contest calling for fake trailers similar to the ones found in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse” double feature. His winning short, titled “Hobo With a Shotgun,” not only went viral, but it put Eisener on a fast track to turn the bogus teaser (which cost about $120 to produce) into an actual feature-length film.
Skip ahead four years and that movie’s finally reaching theaters. Because Eisener favors grindhouse cinema over art-house cinema, we’re treated to perennial roughneck Rutger Hauer in the title role of the hobo, a down-on-his-luck loner who rides the rails into Hope Town and finds a stark reality that’s beyond bleak. Among the degenerates the hobo encounters roaming the streets are a pedophile in a Santa suit who kidnaps children and a sleazy mongrel who pays homeless men $10 so he can torture them on camera.
The crime lord overseeing this depravity is the Drake (Brian Downey), who terrorizes Hope Town’s citizens with the help of his twisted sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). But when Hauer’s hobo finds himself caught in the middle of a pawn shop robbery, our “hero” plunks his last few dollars on the weapon of the title so he can clean up this filthy town. . . or, in reality, make it more grimy with the blood of the criminals he blows away.
The violence in Eisener’s debut film is as senseless and shockingly over-the-top as you’d desire from a movie titled “Hobo With a Shotgun.” Forget buckets: “Hobo” bathes its characters in dumpsters of theatrically thick blood and stringy, gooey intestines. “Grindhouse” may have earned Eisener a ticket to the party, but this director has been studying wicked Troma classics — from “Surf Nazis Must Die” to “The Toxic Avenger” series — and it’s their merciless influence that he wears like a bloodied badge of honor.
“Hobo” doesn’t just straddle the line of good taste. It strangles the line, then beats its corpse into a bloody pulp. Yet criticizing an exploitation film for exploitation that warns you what’s to come with its demonstrative title — and then delivers on that promise — seems ridiculous. Eisener’s in-your-face direction may be blunt, but his screenplay — co-written with John Davies and Rob Cotterill — works in subtle comments about how desensitized our society has become to violence. And while Hauer’s turn as the fed-up vigilante is far better than “Hobo” actually requires, the real gem buried in Eisener’s filth turns out to be Molly Dunsworth. As Abby, the cliched hooker with a heart of gold, the actress injects her character with either a soft-spoken sincerity or a guttural rage. Casting directors who can see through Eisener’s blood and guts would be wise to sign her up.
Doesn’t sound like “Hobo” is your thing? Not to worry. Weinstein Co. or some other Oscar-chasing studio is bound to release a costume drama about a harpsichord-playing European orphan sometime soon. But for those who groove on unapologetically stylish and vindictive gore, Eisener’s “Hobo With a Shotgun” can be a blast.
Contains extreme violence, nudity, sexual situations and language.