ActionFest '11: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN Review
[Have you been seeing a certain Hobo that looks like Rutger Hauer popping up all over the place lately? He makes a hop over to ActionFest as a midnight movie. Here is my take on Jason Eisener's Trash-terpiece from when it opened in Canada]
Welcome to Scumtown. The graffiti runs riotous along the buildings and storefronts, and the crime even moreso. Living up to its title, it features Rutger Hauer riding the rails into town as the eponymous Hobo looking for stray cigarettes and some spare change to buy a lawnmower to make his way as a landscaping entrepreneur. The irony being that there is no grass to be seen in town. After witnessing a wanton act of violence, more a brutally bloody carnival side-show, by the local crimeboss his two identically dressed sons, he instead invests nickels and dimes on a pump-action Remington. The hobo goes to war against drug-dealers, pedophiles, dirty cops and a full assortment of colourful psychotics in the name of making Abby, a young hooker with the heart of gold, undergo a career change from prostitute to school teacher. Dartmouth, Nova Scotia was never particularly high on any tourists list of destinations, Jason Eisener's nightmare vision of the city as an endless concrete gutter teeming with violent freaks and shuffling terrorized victims is unlikely to drum up future visitors. The brightest flowers the film can ever summon up (as a symbol of hope?) are a few rotting dandilions. Yellow weeds are as bright as it gets in this town.
Hobo with a Shotgun feels like a lost and ultraviolent product of the Canadian Tax Shelter films , the cycle of delightfully demented horror films from the 1970s and 1980s that resulted from an excess of government cash put in to stimulate a flailing Canadian movie industry. In fact, the film is indeed set somewhere in the early 1980s judging by the look of the currency being occasionally tossed around as well as a boxy gull wing car and a few choice boom boxes. While the film may have started its life as faux trailer entry in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse, its graduation to a full-length feature easily eclipses Rodriguez's own trailer-turned-movie, Machete. It draws its DNA not from the naughty drive-in and inner-city trash-palace fair of the 60s and 70s, but the ultraviolence of George Miller's Mad Max films as well as the splatstick of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead cycle, although if your ears are peeled at the beginning of the film you might just hear echoes of the Cannibal Holocaust theme.
But Eisener has two tricks up his sleeve that prevents Hobo With A Shotgun from being just another entry in the increasingly boring splatter comedy subgenre. The first is the iconic genre stalwart Rutger Hauer (the ideal nexus-6 himself, Roy Batty) an actor known first from porno-violent Dutch cinema of Paul Verhoeven, to leading man psychos and avenging angels in the 1980s, to the direct to video cheese of the 1990s and early 2000s. Age-lines and white facial hair and Hauer's particular brand of intensity all serve him up as the perfect straight-man in the Grand Guignol atmosphere of Scumtown. Occasionally he has to snarl out a one-liner (sans original Hobo David Brunt's Maritime accent) but the real strength is conviction with Abbey and an tired exasperation with the rest of the world. The second ace-in-the-hole is Eisener's unique way of directing the rest of his actors. Call it "Shout Acting" which was certainly present in the original Hobo trailer, "WE'RE ALL DIRTY COPS!" and his christmas themed horror short, Treevenge ("I SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN SCHOOL..." is shout-mumbled from one of the gruff loggers as he struggles with dragging a chopped christmas tree out of the forest.) One of the chief delights in Hobo is the wacky comments the characters shout at each other in between acts of bloody cartoon violence. They are crude and rude, but hilariously creative. Mention should go to Karim Hussain's colorfully inventive cinematography which echoes the riot-like tones of by mixing the yellow-purple-blue lighting of old Dario Argento films with a decidedly modern digital grain.
Destined for midnight-movie success but bafflement, probably outrage, from the mainstream due to its gleefully politically incorrect use of excess of sex and violence for entertainment. Excess is the key to success, this is hard, hard, hard R. The films most shocking moment (which I will not give away here, but rumour has it that funding was lost due to its inclusion in the film) has a sort of Hays Code callback - allowing to show a wanton act of sex or violence that violates traditional good taste as long as the perpetrator later pays for it on screen. With the film continually upping its phantasmagoric stakes (enter: The Plague) and its eventual passion-play with the Hobo as Christ, it is safe to say that the film goes way too far to allow for any popular success, but shall garner a healthy reputation for the crazy cult curio that it is. While the film is no Rabid or Shivers - there is simply none of the subtext present in the Tax-Shelter Cronenberg, Hobo with a Shotgun is gloriously goofy gratification - it is still worth Shout-Mumbling, "LONG LIVE THE NEW FETISH!"