"Hobo with a Shotgun" is an ambitious effort by first time director Jason Eisener. The exploitation thriller pulls absolutely no punches with its ultra violent melodrama told through the eyes of a homeless man (Rutger Hauer) disgusted by the hell he is surrounded by. The film succeeds in a variety of ways including its tone, momentum, set design, wardrobe, use of practical effects, score and performances, however the over-the-top action-comedy does have its pitfalls, knocking it down from being an outright fulfilling experience to just a rousing one.
Calling 'Hobo' a melodrama sums up the film quite nicely. Sure, this isn't the vaudeville type melodrama that my grandma use to take me to, but it is a hybrid of those. A grindhouse melodrama. One that uses copious amounts of practical blood and old school make-up department type effects. A melodrama has a sensational or a theatrical quality to it and this blood drenched Rutger Hauer vehicle displays both of those qualities with blasting passion. Outside of our lead, 'Hobo' doesn't waste time on too much characterization, instead it introduces characters and lets them play to the simplest qualities i.e. good, bad and disgusting. Take evil brothers Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). These two maniacal brothers are the epitome of filth and vile. They stink so bad it nearly smells through the screen. With characters like Slick and Ivan along with their father Drake (Brian Downey), director Jason Eisener does a solid job of making sure the audience knows who the bad guys are from the onset, giving us every indication who the Hobo aims to kill. The film also doesn't waste time trying to rationalize the actions or mayhem on screen, instead it just chugs directly through them assuming the audience knew what they were in for before watching. If you couldn't tell already, this movie is not for everyone and is definitely not for small children. I wouldn't even allow my thirteen year old son watch it but at the same time I would not be mad if he saw it on his own (if that makes any sense). "Hobo with a Shotgun" is made with a very specific audience in mind. It thrives off an audience that wants gushing amounts of blood, carnage, thrills and laughs. It relishes those qualities and tries its best to illustrate them boldly.
"Hobo with a Shotgun" is a memorable and highly re-watchable action. It is the kind of film that immediately after watching I was ready to watch it again. There are a couple of things that give 'Hobo' its lasting effect, none of which happens to be the gore. First and foremost, I love the look to the film. It has this heightened sense of reality that is almost surreal mainly due to the electric color pallet Eisener used throughout. 'Hobo' houses insanely rich and vibrant colors and sets. Gore enthusiasts will be happy to know the blood does add an extra layer of texture and color to the film but everything else from the lighting to the set interiors and exteriors all just jump off screen in striking fury. Take the The Plague for example, each time these vicious juggernauts of destruction are on screen the neon lighting on display is absolutely entrancing.
All the lavish colors on display also help set the exaggerated tone 'Hobo' flourishes in. Which brings me to my second point of what elevates the spin-off, the tone and momentum. Director Jason Eisener nailed a tonal balance between serious and sensationalism. You have massive leaps from elaborate bloodshed and nudity to very serious and emotional moments. One scene in particular comes to mind when the Hobo tells Abby (Molly Dunsworth) a story about bears and their taste for blood. In this moment, director Jason Eisener allows the viewers to see inside of the Hobo's psyche. We hear his feelings personified through a lesson about bears. Moments later the film dives right back into the carnage but the significance and emotion bleeds right through. This film is a blood bath in morality and I'm glad Eisner along with screenwriters John Davies and Rob Cotterill took time to give the audience a tight balance of emotion and flamboyance. Tight is a solid jumping point to the momentum throughout. 'Hobo' moves at an incredible pace. Not once did I find myself drifting off or losing focus. This is a remarkable feat for a film that delves in slop. Usually with every grindhouse type film there are lulls in the flow, but not here, this film is full throttle from opening credits to closing. Much of the pacing can be credited to the melodrama feel that doesn't allow for too much characterization. Things are constantly happening and rarely does 'Hobo' stop to let you take a breath. Another thing that helps propel the action along is the powerful score by Adam Burke, Darius Holbert and Russ Howard III. "Hobo with a Shotgun" is the first movie I've seen in 2011 with a score that lifted the film up a notch. It's a score that I desperately want to listen to repeatedly, particularly all of the electronic moments. Music that feels directly out of an early John Carpenter film. Music that will stick with you for days after viewing.
Rutger Hauer is the driving force in the film. He comes across fearless as the Hobo fed up with his surroundings. As previously mentioned, Hauer is the only character really given any valuable characterization. The best part is, Hauer chews up the characterization and spits it back on screen with tenacity and devotion. You become attached to the Hobo just like any other cinematic hero and you root for him as he uses his pump action shotgun shell by bloody shell to clean up the town overrun by criminals. 'Hobo' features two other dynamic performances by Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman. They play evil brothers Slick and Ivan. These guys are wicked on screen and are completely excessive in their performances. They are our highlighted villains and both actors do a frantic job on screen pushing the audience into eagerly awaiting their bloody demise.
The one area I really had a hard time with "Hobo with a Shotgun" is its dialogue. While all the rest of the extreme in the action-thriller worked, the absurd dialogue mainly falls flat. There are moments where the plentiful one-liners do work but overall they are just plain awful. Take the character Drake for example, Brian Downey is beyond creepy in the role and certainly looks the part, but everything that leaked from his mouth is endlessly annoying. Drake is not the only character that comes across too cheap either, in all honesty, outside of the Hobo, Ivan and Slick the rest of the characters and their dialogue is entirely expendable. Its the part of the film that had the potential to take me out of the movie. Luckily the brevity of these characters helped to never fully break my appreciation for what Jason Eisener had done with this spin-off. Remember again that "Hobo with a Shotgun" started as a two minute trailer created apart of a competition. Eisener's short won and he went on to make a feature length film. He stretched a two minute idea into a feature length film and did a better job than established filmmaker Robert Rodriguez did with his grindhouse spin-off "Machete."
"Hobo with a Shotgun" does a excellent job of playing to its audience. It is a 21st century film that feels like it could have come from the 80's. It is excessive, hyper-violent and full of energy. It is flawed but overall it is a widely enjoyable film that quickly will become a new favorite of mine. A grindhouse I can easily watch over and over and show to anyone in the mood for a violent and extravagant experience. Lastly, I have to thank Jason Eisener for giving me another Rutger Hauer role to love. I grew up with Hauer and seeing him on screen again which so much passion and vigor really was a dream come true.