Review: Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

There’s really not much to say about a film like Hobo with a Shotgun except that it succeeds at what it tries to accomplish, which is to be an outrageously over-the-top 1980s exploitation film. What started out as a fake trailer that won a contest for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ Grindhouse back in 2007 quickly evolved into a full-length feature. In almost all ways conceivable, Hobo with a Shotgun feels like a VHS found in the back dregs of the local video store. Its authenticity is its strength, but it is also its inevitable weakness due to the basic fact that 80s schlock cinema is hardly good cinema. Canadian director Jason Eisner, known by the underground midnight madness crowd for his twisted short Christmas horror film Treevenge (2008), has a knack for preposterous, inventive gore and for pushing the envelope of what’s acceptable in a movie — even an exploitation movie. One scene where two bumper cars sandwich a man’s head, which explodes like a watermelon under a hammer, gives an idea of the kind of little throwaway gore-gags this film contains. Segments like this last hardly five seconds, but they leave an impression on you and they are numerous. Other scenes, like the one in which villain brothers, Slick and Ivan, flamethrower a school bus full of children set to “Disco Inferno,” are demented in the extreme. If such a scene sounds too much for you, best stay away from this one. Hobo with a Shotgun requires a very specific type of viewer because the average viewer would be horrified, not amused, by most of the film’s action — Eisner’s intensions be damned. However, that specific type of viewer Eisner is aiming for — the schlock junky that is so prevalent nowadays — will take the film in the right manner, which is to say, humorously, and love every minute of it.

I haven’t mentioned the film’s plot because the title spells out everything you need to know. Rutger Hauer is a hobo with a shotgun, dreaming of buying a vintage lawn mower and starting up a grass-mowing business, but forced to clean up the streets of an urban dystopia straight out of The Warriors (1979). Hauer is a good actor and the role requires a strange amount of dedication to make it work. He rightly refuses to wink at the audience and screams preposterous lines like “I’m gonna sleep in your bloody carcasses tonight!” with an unwavering intensity. Had Hauer not been there to serve as the film’s solid foundation, the film would not have worked.

Hobo with a Shotgun will appease the midnight madness crowd and all the lovers of exploitation cinema the world over, but that is where its appeal begins and ends. To Jason Eisner credit is due for capturing the spirit of schlock cinema, but fans of this film and exploitation cinema in general have to keep in mind that films like Hobo with a Shotgun are not the future of cinema, they are its sleazy, underground past. It’s alright to find enjoyment in a movie like Hobo with a Shotgun just like it’s alright to occasionally gorge yourself on triple-patty cheeseburgers. But just as when your diet consists of only triple-patty cheeseburgers, if you only enjoy movies like Hobo with a Shotgun, I recommend you take a step back and seek to formulate a healthier cinematic diet.

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Directed by Jason Eisner; written by John Davies; starring Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, and Brian Downey.

6 out of 10