Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When Life Gives You Razorblades… by Mark Donovan

Mark Donovan

 FILM REVIEW: "Hobo With A Shotgun," by Mark Donovan

Your enjoyment of Hobo with a Shotgun depends on your love of 70s exploitation films, and whether you can watch the kid from Small Soldiers take a flamethrower to a bus full of children. Yes, this in an unapologetic filth classic, served straight.
It is, indeed, a joke, in case the title alone didn’t tip you off, but there are no winking moments, no breaking of the fourth wall, and the director and cinematographer keep the aesthetic within the confines of the 70s/80s exploitation genre. This is an ugly movie, but it is ugly on purpose. If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was a forgotten 70s grindhouse classic.

The movie was originally conceived as a fake trailer for the Canadian release of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez film Grindhouse, which also gave the world Machete. Both films perfectly capture the same low-budget, DIY-style 70s aesthetic, but Hobo with a Shotgun hews closer to the rules of the genre by keeping the violence over-the-top and pace brisk. The main problem with Machete was that, at two hours long, it started to drag in the middle. With Hobo being a swift 86 minutes, there’s not enough time for it to get bogged down in plot, let alone for the middle to sag. This is all killer, no filler – no pun intended.

Shortly after arriving in Hopetown/Scumtown, a nameless hobo, played by Rutger Hauer, witnesses some extreme violence, brought on by a man named Drake and his two sons, Slick and Ivan. Slick is the son played by Gregory Smith, of Small Soldiers non-fame, who looks like a cross between Edward Furlong and Corey Feldman. His brother, Ivan, is played by Nick Bateman of…stuff…and looks like a cross between Andy Samburg and Dane Cook. Practically everyone in this movie looks like the non-union, Mexican counterpart to somebody famous - except for Rutger Hauer, who is indeed Rutger Hauer. I’m not sure if that was what casting directors Deirdre Bowen and Sheila Lane were going for, but it works.

Scumtown/Hopetown is the classic 70s/80s staple of a city overrun by crime. In the eternal conflict between Us vs. Them, the Thems have won, and then some. This is an entire city populated by Them. Everyone is either a drug dealer, pimp, pusher, prostitute, or bum. Nobody works a 9-5, drives a minivan, or lives with 2.5 kids and a dog. The police are either ineffective or corrupt. And there is a Santa Claus, but he kidnaps children, and he apparently does it year-round. Scumtown/Hopetown is where hope goes to die – a point made obvious long before the titular Hobo delivers a soliloquy to a room full of newborns - which is why it is amazing that it takes 30 minutes of an 86 minute movie before somebody, anybody, grabs a shotgun and just starts killing people.

The carnage in Hobo with a Shotgun is bloody, morbid, and strangely creative. The manhole-cover thing was given away in the trailer, but there is much more inventive carnage to behold. Still, for a faux-grindhouse film, there isn’t much nudity. Where most exploitation films would be awash in gratuitous nudity, Hobo keeps the clothes on, for the most part. The cinematography, by Karim Hussain, is appropriately over-saturated, giving the film its grimy feel. There are also some nice 70s touches, like how Slick and Ivan drive around in a Bricklin. The Bricklin is also one of two visual clues as to the setting of the movie; apparently our neighbors to the north are just as overrun by filth and crime as we are.

Still, as I said, your enjoyment of the film hinges on your enjoyment on mindless violence and over-the-top gore. This is a faux-filth film that can either be immensely enjoyable, or deplorable, depending on your tastes. In the recent wave of 70s and 80s throwbacks, it ranks just behind Black Dynamite, and just ahead of Machete. Those looking for a true throwback to the days of anything –goes filmmaking should definitely seek out Hobo with a Shotgun. You won’t be disappointed.

Film website/ Magnet Releasing

Written by Mark Donovan
Editor: Rod Webber

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