Sundance review: 'Hobo With A Shotgun' offers up unhinged, depraved fun with Rutger Hauer and both barrels
PARK CITY - As you may know, since you've decided to read a review for a film called "Hobo With A Shotgun," there is a film that is indeed called "Hobo With A Shotgun."
Let's back up. When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were getting ready to release "Grindhouse," one of the things that people were excited about were the fake trailers that were going to be included in the film, and there was a SXSW/AICN contest for people to make their own fake grindhouse trailers, and the winner got to have their trailer shown before the premiere of the movie. The winner of that contest was the absolutely deserving "Hobo With A Shotgun" by the absolutely talented Jason Eisener. It's taken from that moment until tonight for Jason to finish the journey from that fake trailer to a real movie, and as far as I'm concerned, it was totally worth the wait.
He made another film in the meantime, a short that I saw here two years ago called "Treevenge," and that short is genuinely wonderful. I didn't need him to make "Hobo" in particular, but I knew that Eisener was a guy who needed to be making feature films, and soon. He's got a great sense of energy, and beyond that, he's able to mix an aggressively wild and sleazy style with some real smart just-under-the-surface substance, due in no small part to his collaborators John Davies and Rob Cotterill, who worked on the story and script with him. I think something like this works best as collaboration because it's almost like you can hear them sitting together, cackling as they write, daring each other, spurring each other to go farther. One thing's for certain… "Hobo With A Shotgun" is utterly unafraid to offend, exploit, excite, and entertain, drenched with hyperviolence and shot through with a wicked wit.
It's one thing to make a movie that feels like a nudge-nudge wink-wink nod to a style of filmmaking that someone loves, but it's much harder to make a film that authentically feels like it really is a relic from the era. If you told me that "Hobo With A Shotgun" was made in 1979, and they shelved it because the director turned out to be a dude with a basement full of dead bodies, and they're only releasing it now because he's finally dead, I'd buy it. It's unhinged fun, and this is the sort of film that you could genuinely describe as a "guilty pleasure," not because it's a bad film that I love but because it is so gleefully deranged that I'm afraid people might worry about my own moral compass if I admit how much I like it.
When I first heard that they were looking for a bigger name and they weren't going to use the same guy who played the Hobo in the fake trailer, I was a little bummed. But having made that choice, they really could not have done better for themselves than hiring Rutger Hauer. He's so strange, so beautiful in a sand-blasted sort of way, so calm even in the face of the craziest over-the-top Troma violence that I can't imagine the film working without him. He's in his own private movie, wandering through this crazy world that Eisener has built for him. It's a reminder of just what I love about Hauer's best work, that otherworldly intelligence combined with the intimidating size.
The rest of the cast is… how do I say this? Lunatics. Each and every one of them. There's a relish to the way they play the degenerate material that just plain works, and the film is shot with such a garish, "Dick Tracy" palette by Karim Hussein that you can't really be offended by any of it. It's a cartoon, a revenge fantasy via Termite Terrace. If you really want to try to ascribe a larger social agenda to the film, we certainly live in a moment where there is something genuinely potent about a homeless man cleaning up an out-of-control decadence in the establishment, but I don't think that's what Eisener and his cohorts were up to. They're enjoying themselves so much that you can't really drag the real world into it. In the real world, a deranged man with a gun sends public officials to the hospital and children to a grave and there's nothing funny about it. Eisener is smart enough to know that this sort of material can't be treated too seriously, or it starts to cross some deeply uncomfortable lines.
In this film, the Hobo wanders into a town that's run by a family of sociopathic criminals, and he watches the way everyone cowers in fear until the moment he finds himself in the line of fire during a visit to a pawnshop. He sets aside his dream of buying a lawnmower so he can have a business of his own to buy a shotgun instead, and he spends the rest of the movie killing every single mofo who deserves it. That's it. That's all you need to know. That's all there really is to it. It's just a matter of how much you can wring out of that, and the film knows exactly when to wrap it up and get out.
I'm not going to oversell it to you. It's not for everyone, which may become my mantra this Sundance. You've got to have a strong stomach and a sense of humor tuned to a particular pitch, but if you're game for it, these guys worked overtime to deliver on the title, and unlike "Snakes On A Plane," this is a case where it all pays off. What a great way to turn a snowy Friday night in Park City into a party.
I've got a few more reviews for you before I hit the bed tonight. It's been a heck of a day, and I'm excited about sharing these with you.