Saturday, March 26, 2011

Movie Review: "Hobo With A Shotgun" by David Pretty

Greetings, Gratuitous Gorehounds!

Well, if you live in my neck of the woods and you haven't heard anything about resident splatter-meister / cinematic wunderkind Jason Eisener's first feature film Hobo With A Shotgun, then you must be living in a graffiti-covered dumpster underneath the MacKay bridge.  For the benefit of you sad souls, here's the film's kick-ass trailer:

This week sees the Canadian premiere of the Halifax/Dartmouth lensed ode to grindhouse flicks.  And although the film is loyal to it's skid-row sensibilities, I still think could have been a bit slicker in some departments.  But we'll get to that in a moment...

I won't bore anyone with the genesis of the feature film, since either people have heard the story already ad nauseum or the full tell-o is readily available to anyone who cares to "Google" it.  The thing I will stress is that of all the offerings that were tabled to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to add authenticity to their Grindhouse feature film, Eisener's vicious, hyper-violent mock-preview  actually outclassed (in my humble opinion) some of the "professional" fake trailers.   

Werewolf Women of the S.S., I'm looking at you, pal. 

So, I think it made a lot of sense to spin this off into a feature film.  Here, the Hobo in question (Rutger Hauer, replacing the trailer's original derelict David Brunt) disembarks from his train car in a new town, hoping for greener pastures.  Unfortunately he's chosen to make his stop in a burg that looks suspiciously like Halifax but is alternately referred to as "Scumtown" and "Fucktown".  Hmmmm...maybe he shoulda just hopped right back into the next boxcar and saved himself a lungful of grief.

'Cuz this city's got more grief than Gotham.  The town's criminal overlord is The Drake (Brian Downey), a rubber-faced, pristine-suited basket-case with a gloriously obvious Newfoundland accent who rules with an iron first.  We barely get into the first reel before the Hobo witnesses Drake creatively execute an incompetent nephew (Trailer Park Boys alum Rob Wells) while his two gleefully repellent sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) cheer him on.

These two rejects from a Larry Clark film soon make the grievous oversight of messing with resident hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Abby (Molly Dunsworth), which prompts a coin-encumbered sock beating from our Hobo.  Our hero tries to perform a citizen's arrest but it's soon evident that the cops in the city are squarely in the pocket of The Drake.  When the terrible twosome exact some nasty revenge on the Hobo and leave him for dead, Abby comes to his rescue and nurses him back to health.          

After flirting with a few terrible temp jobs (Hey, who hasn't had some gigs in their day that felt like eating glass?), the Hobo is prevented from purchasing his mulching ticket to freedom when the pawn shop he's standing in is invaded by three homicidal robbers.  Their incursion is the last straw and we can't help but cheer when the Hobo defers his more mundane purchase in lieu of a conveniently placed 12-gage and promptly starts cleaning up the streets "one shell at a time".

Naturally, the age-old passion play of revenge and up-the-ante counter-revenge inexorably unspools for the balance of the film's run time.  In quick succession we're treated to pervy cops reduced to liquid form, a school bus turned into an impromptu Dutch oven, a pack of machete-wielding armored lunatics who look like walking boiler engines, creative use of severed limbs, death by toaster and a götterdämmerung climax that makes the finale of  Death Proof look like Fried Green Tomatoes.

The film delivers on what you might expect from a film called Hobo With A Shotgun.  It's grainy, sleazy, violent, profane and creatively anarchic.  Witness one twisted and completely inexplicable scene whereby Drake lectures his boys about family business, whilst and at the same time, a hanging slab of human meat is tenderized in the background by three topless chicks armed with baseball bats.  I guarantee that no film you see this year will make you feel more like running home and taking a forty-five minute shower.

Despite it's skid-row aesthetics (or perhaps because of it) Hobo With A Shotgun is energetically directed and edited.  The Hobo's grand guignol revenge montage, the vicious kitchen brawl, the hospital slaughter and Abby's revenge at the end of the film are all more punishing then a back-hoe on top of a cardboard box filled with transients.  The gore effects are competently mounted and it's no suprise why the crew needed the services of a "blood truck" to keep their grue train a-rollin'.

The collective performances really help to elevate the film's shortcomings.  Rutger Hauer is perfectly cast and there is tremendous nuance in his deliveries.  He's afforded a few real meaty moments (like the nursery scene) that is evocative of Roy Batty's soliloquy at the end of Blade Runner.  His heavily lined face, willingness to look totally gnarly and always expressive eyes make him hypnotic to watch.

Mark my words right now: expect great things from Molly Dunsworth.  As Abby, she's world-weary beyond her years and towards the end of the film manages to generate some real gravitas with a rousing speech even when it's book-ended by visual and verbal lunacy.  The protective father/doting daughter relationship that develops between the two manages to be convincing even if the two leads don't get a ton of help from the script.  It's a real testimony to the skill of the actors.

The bad guys also turn in some lively perfs.  Brian Downey in particular chews more scenery per capita than Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons.  Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman are gleefully reprehensible and you just dread what sick new whims they may indulge in next.  Unfortunately, the script only asks cartoonish uber-villainy from them.  It's like the the screenwriters are grabbing us by the lapels and screaming in our face: "Aren't they just stinkers?  Don't cha just hate these miserable pricks?  You gotta be  counting the seconds before they're inevitably dispatched in a blast of buckshot, right, right!?"

Which brings me to what I didn't care for in the film.  Now, it's gonna be easy to people to rebut: "Yeah, but this film is pure exploitation; the sorta flick that plays at the Wrong Side Of The Tracks Theater and comfortably shares a double bill with Cannibal Holocaust."   To a certain extent I'll grant you that point, since in many ways Hobo With A Shotgun is truer to it's influences then, say, Planet Terror

But in my humble opinion, the film could have honored it's pedigree and still kicked it up a few notches.  That would have made for a truly transcendental and immortal film for the ages.  Frankly, a lot of the dialogue sounds like desperate attempts to create memorable quotes just by juxtaposing a bunch of random obscenities.  A lot of it generated chuckles from the audience, because people just don't talk like that.   This was fine for a two minute long fake trailer but spun out over a feature-length film, it begins to wear on you.

Also, the very little moments of character development seem to be schizophrenically crashed through, presumably so we can get back to the next scenes of mayhem.  With just a little bit more polish, the script could have given us some more hooks to sustain us.  Why did the Hobo become a drifter?  Why does Abby in particular have no other alternative at all in her life?  Why are the Drake and his sons so gratuitously and haphazardly evil?  What did they do to get so powerful?  Don't they realize that constantly doing random, sick, crazy shit is just plain stupid from a self-preservation point of view?

Now, I didn't expect My Dinner With Andre here, but a few strategic scenes with good, economic, naturally-flowing dialogue would have done wonders.  I really don't give a crap how easy it is to say "Well, it's exploitation, like an E.C. comic book.  The characters are supposed to be broad-stroke archetypes", the audience still needs to understand what's running underneath the hood of these people in order to emphasize, and subsequently, give a shit about what happens to them.  Otherwise it becomes boring, like watching someone else mash buttons on an NES controller. 

Nevertheless, this is a very ambitious start from Eisener and company and these guys really deserve a pat on the back for trying to lift Canadian cinema out of the slice-of-life ghetto it's labored under for so many years.  It's a real giddy thrill to see places I walk by habitually projected all over North American movie screens.  These guys have worked their flannel-clad asses off and they deserve every iota of success coming to them.

If anything, Hobo With a Shotgun is the real deal.  So much so that I fear it may not resonate with more people above and beyond freaks like myself who were reared on such extreme cinematic fare.


out of five.  Tilt: up. 

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