Riotously profane and ridiculously self-indulgent, The Hateful Eight is an unruly, over-the-top mystery of epic proportions; a verbose, Ennio Morricone-scored whodunit; and a wild, daring showcase for all that’s right and wrong with its auteur. Adventurous and exasperating, it’s somehow nearly unmissable, if only because no one does it like this.
A decade or so after the Civil War, bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), transporting the corpses of three outlaws to the town of Red Rock, hitches a ride on a stagecoach, inside of which is bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and handcuffed fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). When a blizzard drives the group to seek refuge in Minnie’s Haberdashery, the trio meet a quintet, leading to suspicion, confrontation, and pandemonium.
The trailer and preliminary advertising, not to mention the ensemble nature, the Western vibes, and the return of many previous collaborators, led many to conclude that The Hateful Eight would function as a collection of “greatest hits” from infamous wunderkind Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown). Indeed, The Hateful Eight boasts the flashbacks from Pulp Fiction, the trapdoor from Inglourious Basterds, and the gleeful villainy of Django Unchained.
That said, The Hateful Eight draws as much from other films as from its author’s own oeuvre. There are hints of The Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods, and certain moments ring so vindictively that it fashions a strong sense of angry Cronenberg, like Maps to the Stars crossed with a more vengeful version of A History of Violence.
Tarantino the writer has always had a flair for the dramatic and a taste for the unsavoury. In The Hateful Eight, even more so than usual, he populates his canvas with a slew of unlikeable characters. In addition to the racist slurs, Warren’s rendition of a bitter act of humiliation that he inflicts on another is filled with spite and triumph, and Ruth’s aggressive treatment of Domergue borders on the barbaric.
Similarly, Tarantino the director has always had a penchant for spraying blood to the corners of the screen. In The Hateful Eight, he has a 70mm widescreen on which to project his violent impulses. He takes full advantage of the opportunity. By the end, a viewer may be left with a nasty aftertaste, and for good reason: this is venomous, nihilistic filmmaking about vile, despicable characters.
Still, Jackson, Russell, and Leigh are quite memorable: they sink their teeth into Tarantino’s dialogue and deliver almost faultlessly. Walton Goggins as an incoming sheriff is also effective, though it’s hard not to feel like he walked off the set of FX’s Justified and continued his iconic creation Boyd Crowder under a new name. The others are far less impressive, and Tarantino – once again – falls into one of the strangest cases of miscasting that can be found in recent years.
The deepening repercussions of the loss of Tarantino’s long-time editor Sally Menke (she passed away in 2010 after putting the finishing touches on Inglourious Basterds) become more painfully evident with each subsequent film. Scenes are played out at full length, not for maximum impact, but as if the artist behind the camera simply cannot bear the thought of leaving anything out. It reminded me of my reaction to The Wolf of Wall Street: no discipline to be found anywhere.
It is clear that Tarantino has entered a second stage in his career (he claims there are only two films to come before his retirement), one marked by a radical shift towards homage after developing a distinctly original voice in the early phase, especially with his debut and sophomore features. Those films displayed a knack for crackling lines and outstanding characters and saw Tarantino successfully avoid the pitfalls he would eventually make a habit of dancing in for a large portion of his later running times.
Caustic, bleak, and bloody, while leavened with Tarantino’s undeniable talent, The Hateful Eight is one of the most conflicting cinematic experiences of the year, entertaining, tense, well-shot, with a (mostly) dynamite cast, but arriving with a heaping side of shortcomings. Yes, Kill Bill warned us that “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, but damn, the dish served in The Hateful Eight is close to freezing.