Movie titles are rarely good descriptors, but every once in a while something like Hobo with a Shotgun comes along, and half the work is done for me. Not seeing a single frame, most of you should already know whether you’re interested in director Jason Eisener’s throwback to exploitative hyper-violence. As for genre fans or those who aren’t so queasy, rest assured that the movie is a success. The direction and scenery-chewing performances strike the right tone. The splattering viscera is hilarious and horrifying. Infectious enthusiasm serves as a guide through gaping plot holes, so it’s easy to suspend disbelief and embrace the carnage.
A homeless drifter (Rutger Hauer) hops off a train and wanders into Hopetown. “Scumtown” is scrawled over the welcome sign, and bloodthirsty crimelord Drake (Brian Downey) helps the hobo realize this, indeed, is a place where one abandons hope. The hobo attempts his routine, but tosses his pitiful “please help” sign when he intervenes in the attempted rape of Abby (Molly Dunsworth), our hooker with a heart of gold. The police are no help; they’re in cahoots with Drake and his deranged sons, Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith). Disturbed by the amorality, the hobo soon stops a robbery with his titular firearm. His vigilantism doesn’t stop there. The hobo wages war on the thugs of Scumtown, but Drake and his sons have sadistic ways of quelling his rebellion.
Eisener wastes no time defining his utterly deranged universe. Once the hobo arrives, Drake beheads a hapless victim with a barb-wire noose. The scene doesn’t end there – a scantily-clad bimbo dances in the blood as it shoots into the sky like a geyser. Over-the-top inhumanity creates curiosity in how Eisener will top himself next. He does not disappoint: I the scenes where the hobo pours vodka onto Abby’s gaping neck wound, as well as Slick’s monstrous handling of a school bus. The camerawork is similarly exaggerated – hues of harsh red and green mask the gore and pay homage to Eisener’s grind house inspirations. As for the mostly-unknown cast, they say their grittily hilarious lines without guile or irony. These guys go for broke, and by never breaking character, the director’s assured style lets us in on the joke. Retro music further disassociates the movie from reality, so when the go-for-broke climax arrives, we believe the hobo can defeat his metal-clad foes.
At the Tribeca Film Festival, I saw Rutger Hauer in a completely different role. In Black Butterflies, he plays a South African politician , one who embraces apartheid and admonishes his poetic daughter. Each performance is commanding, but couldn’t be more different in terms of tone and ambition. As the hobo, Hauer teeters between unhinged anger and quiet bouts of insanity. His scenes with Abby might have chemistry if the hobo’s delusions weren’t so wistful and feckless. It’s easier, then, to embrace the Hobo’s relentless rampage and seething resolve. Together with Eisener, Hauer adds the right level of gravitas. He doesn’t even break character when he delivers final one-liner, which is both delicious and inevitable. Like Eisener, I get the feeling the hobo had the line in his pocket the moment he got the idea to pick up his weapon.