Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Hobo With A Shotgun is a colorful, violent and profane bit of nastiness that would have sat well along some of the messier cult films of the 80s such as Street Trash or The Toxic Avenger. While posited as a tribute to Grindhouse cinema (thanks to its origins in a contest for the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double-bill from a few years back), Jason Eisener's often ridiculous revenge flick actually owes more to the VHS generation, even up to casting 80s mainstay (and former Paul Verhoeven muse) Rutger Hauer in the lead. This bit of inspired casting ends up being the film's ace in the hole, as Hauer brings some surprising gravitas to his frequent scenes of suffering - and eventual retribution.

Hauer stars as the titular Hobo who arrives in the impossibly corrupt and violent Hopetown (a post-apocalyptic looking Dartmouth, Nova Scotia) on the rails, only to almost immediately find himself the target of Drake - a psychotic gangster with a love for decapitation - and his two fratboy sons. Bonding with the requisite hooker with a heart of gold (Molly Dunsworth), the Hobo soon seeks revenge with the help of a pawn shop shotgun and a seemingly unlimited number of shells. Drake attempts to turn favor against the hero Hobo (and the homeless in general), before calling in some heavy hitters - the Plague - to take the pair down for good.

The film falters in its opening scene, which introduces the baddies in an appropriately gory and over the top way (and features a small appearance by Robb Wells from the Trailer Park Boys) but feels so ridiculous that it gives the impression that the film as a whole is going to be sillier than it ends up being. In fact, the film isn't a spoof or take-off on the genre films that influenced it, and aside from some creative profanity and a few choice lines from the Hobo - and the extreme violence on display - Eisener (along with writer John Davies) chooses to treat the material with some surprising seriousness. He also wisely forgoes an attempt to replicate the look of gritty 70s exploitation films, choosing instead to ramp up the color with lights and pastels to give the whole thing the feel of a comic book by way of Dario Argento.

Production quality is high, though you'll never mistake this for a Hollywood film, and the filmmakers wisely decide to avoid the overused CG violence of recent years for bloody squibs and plenty of generally impressive physical effects. Eisener finds a respectable balance between gross-out gags and cartoonish gore, and he shows a respectable adeptness with the film's later action scenes - which bodes well for his plans to next film a Canadian martial arts epic.

The acting is a bit uneven, with Brian Downey (from Lexx) giving a pleasantly demented performance as Drake while Molly Dunsworth's Abby is sort of underdeveloped and doesn't carry enough presence for her big speech in the final act to be taken seriously. Supporting performances can be a little iffy, but who cares? This is Rutger Hauer's show, and he brings it lock, stock and (shotgun) barrel. Hauer blows away criminals, eats glass, and gives a few great monologues to raise the whole production up a few notches. Getting Hauer in this role was a huge coup for the production, and Eisener makes the most of it.

I do want to briefly mention the film's impressive score by Darius Holbert and Russ Howard III which blends John Carpenter minimalism with moments of enjoyable synth-rock (think Fabio Frizzi) that underscores the action nicely. Despite these echoes of other soundtracks, however, the main themes feel fresh and are a nice change from the forgettable rock soundtracks you see in similar splatterfests.

Canuxploitation has a long and impressive history, but in recent years Canadian genre films have been all but forgotten, even with the success of filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Vincenzo Natali. Hobo With a Shotgun is exactly the shot of adrenaline the sadly stagnant film industry in this country needs, and I would love to see it kick-start a new wave of Eastern Canadian horror and exploitation. Likely a pipe dream, but Eisener's trip from youtube trailer to cineplex can be an inspiration for any kid who spent the 80s and 90s devouring VHS tapes at their local video store. An incredibly fun and bloody piece of entertainment that can stand proudly next to many of its influences.


Ash said...

I am incredibly jealous. This opens up in Halifax this week, and I hope to make it to a screening.

It's probably an accurate depiction of Dartmouth. But, I'm in Metro Halifax, where the unofficial slogan is: "Let's All Hate Darmouth."

Doug Tilley said...

It's definitely worth your while. The screening I had included a too-quick Q&A with the director, the writer and a few of the actors - and was hosted by Canada AM film critic Richard Crouse. Mark McKinney from The Kids in the Hall was in attendance as well.

Heck, I'm just glad to see the East Coast get SOMETHING going film-wise. Would love to see a Halifax Exploitation Explosion. ;)