Back in 2007, whether they meant to or not, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino launched a trend. By releasing Grindhouse, a three hour double-feature that paid homage to exploitation films of the 1960s and 1970s, they brought back a type of cinema that was thought to be extinct. It made audiences nostalgic for something that many of them didn’t even know existed, surfacing people’s inner blood-lust and desire to watch cars crash into each other at top speed.
It was from the Rodriguez-Tarantino creation that director Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun sprang, quite literally, and while it is great deal of fun and delivers satisfaction for those questing for gore and guts, it also does overplay its hand sporadically and, almost magically, finds a way to become dull.
Based on Eisener’s prize-winning short that was shown as a “fake trailer” during some showings of Grindhouse, the film centers on a nameless hobo (Rutger Hauer) who rides the rails to a new city where he tries to build a new life. But while he wants nothing more than to buy a lawnmower and start his own landscaping business, he can’t help but be distracted and horrified by the actions of a crime boss known as Drake (Brian Downey) and his two sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). Putting his dreams on hold, he uses his lawnmower money to buy a shotgun instead, and dedicates himself to cleaning up the streets.
As disgusting and over-the-top as Grindhouse and Rodriguez’s similarly-themed follow-up, Machete, may have been, none of them hold a candle to Eisener’s film. Characters use custom-made manhole covers and barbed wire to decapitate others. One person takes to another’s neck with a hacksaw. At one point the titular hobo is forced to chew on shards of broken glass. The structure is set up so that each scene is set up to out-do its predecessor. But therein lies the problem.
As a result of Eisener’s self-one-upmanship, the film’s pacing suffers. While it may be a shock to some, there is enough plot to keep the audience invested in the story, but even for a movie that revels in its overabundance there’s simply too much. Do you cheer when the hero puts down a pedophile dressed as Santa Clause? Certainly. Are we happy when the sadistic asshole who pays homeless people to fight gets what’s coming to him? Sure. But at some point you just have to keep things moving.
Given the parameters of the faux-grindhouse style – poor quality film stock, scratches, etc. – what Eisener is able to do from a visual stand point is actually fairly impressive. While the movie does have those markings, the director makes a bold choice to oversaturate the color, and the result is fantastic. The effect provides a cartoony, child-like aesthetic which balances brilliantly with the extreme amount of blood letting and violence. The movie’s plot line is fantastical enough, but the color brings it to a whole new level.
Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun is a film completely lacking in pretension and knows exactly what it is, but knows it to a fault. Even at just 86 minutes the film manages to feel overlong, but the positives of the project fortunately outweigh its negatives.