Don’t expect any heroes in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a shocking and stunning take on a mystery thriller with no shortage of blood on the walls. 8/10
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
The Hateful Eight
The Civil War has ended, but there is still unrest in the United States of America. The Unconditional Surrender of the Confederate South has done nothing to relieve the pains of war. To survive a mighty blizzard, Major Marquis Wallace hails a wagon. Inside is John The Hangman Ruth, a bounty hunter on his way to Red Rock with Daisy Domergue for her hanging. They all take refuge in Minnie’s haberdashery with a cowboy, a Mexican, a confederate general, a sheriff and a hangman. Before any of them can leave, guns will fire, blood will splatter, and peace and justice will be brought to the Galaxy. I mean, Wyoming.
What sticks with you more than anything after watching this film is the unrelenting creepiness that trickles through from start to finish. The opening is a slow pan out on a snow capped Jesus statue as a wagon slowly comes into view. I was instantly reminded of Jack Torrence’s car winding towards The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel, or the Predator capsule silently shuttling into earth’s atmosphere. The common thread of an unknown danger drifting into town is an unsettling one. Between that and the sweeping shots of winter vistas, Tarantino makes the very most of his location and it certainly pays off. In fact, you wouldn’t peg it for a Tarantino film at the start if not for the actor’s names appearing in luscious 70’s fonts.
That’s a good thing to remember about The Hateful Eight: it’s not a Western. Sure, it’s been promoted as Tarantino’s first Western, but it’s not a Western. It pays it’s respects to Westerns along the way. It tips it’s cap to Eastwood and Van Cleef. Still, not a Western – but that’s not a bad thing. Tarantino knows as well as anyone that the Western can’t be resurrected. This is a mystery drama pure and simple. At times a thriller, at others a horror, but the mystery ties it all together in a loose knit.
Hateful Eight has no shortage of authenticity for its time. The relationship ship between John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is unabashedly savage and isn’t shy about its physical brutality. However, there’s also no lack of Tarantino’s signature humour and furious flamboyance. This all feeds into the encapsulated plays that make up the five chapters of this film. You’d be tempted to go back to Reservoir Dogs for a point of reference for the dialogue-driven scenes that work perfectly on their own but flow seamlessly together.
In case you’re curious about the gore-factor of Hateful Eight, you won’t be disappointed. It takes a while to pick up steam, but as Channing Tatum‘s character says “the name of the game is patience”. Give it two chapters and the blood starts coming at stunning volume and velocity. Then a head gets blown clean off its body and the bullets and blood keep at a steady flow until the end.
The performances by the actors are dependable and disappointment-free. Leigh needs a special mention of all the Eight: Daisy Domergue is horrifyingly hypnotic. Her head weaves and rocks like a python, spitting venom, saliva and blood when it suits. She spends half of the film with her face covered in blood, and somehow it comes to suit her perfectly.
Russell playing an uncompromising bounty hunter must be like someone picking up an instrument for the first time and realising they’re brilliant at it. He played the role of Ruth like a character actor might, so under all that moustache there wasn’t a hint of the famous actor.
The winter backdrop isn’t the only thing chilling about this film. Some of the dialogue is incredibly fierce. A key shudder point is Samuel L Jackson‘s monologue of killing another character’s son while a rusty piano rendition of Silent Night plays in the background.
Speaking of music, a word on the score and song choices. Ennio Morricone was an obvious and unbeatable choice for this film. Not only because he defined frontier cinema with his Spaghetti Western scores, but also since his contribution was such an excellent fit for Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Morricone reminds younger cinema-goers that his strength isn’t limited to Ecstacy of Gold. Much of the score isn’t quintessentially western, but profits more from Morricone’s atmospheric non-Western work.
As always half the fun is the soundtrack choices interspersed with the score. Normally you get a good few commercially familiar racks but for Hateful Eight there are only 3. One strangely modern track is White Stripes’ Apple Blossom which, while a solid acoustic track, was a bit jarring. This was made all the more disruptive by the lack of other similar musical choices for the rest of the film. Fortunately the only other two songs not made for the film blend in perfectly and pick up the slack.
On the performance side of things, the only let down is from Michael Madsen. For someone who more or less is a cowboy in real life, Madsen seems to put very little punch into his role as Joe Gage. A little sleepier and meeker than you might like, Madsen is charitably carried for a lot of the film. Sleepy and meek may have been the plan for Madsen all along, but arguably a lot more could have been made of his character
I said earlier on that The Hateful Eight isn’t a Western, and it’s not. The beauty of the plot that unravels in Tarantino’s mystery is that it could be told in almost any time or place. The 8 characters could have played out their parts in a Cold War bunker, an abandoned office block or in Mos Eisley space port.
Although The Hateful Eight matches Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained in length and quality, it shares one key quality with Tarantino’s earlier work: there are no heroes to speak of. Not one of the players is a lovable rogue, a righteous underdog or Christoph Waltz in a period-fitting hat. The film is nothing but villains, and it’s in those morally empty waters that Tarantino swims most strongly. This works especially well in this film because it has the heart of a mystery horror. The spine tingling score matched with crescendos of blood spatter make for an uncompromising movie. Now most of this sits comfortably inside Tarantino’s wheelhouse, and I’ll admit that not everything took me by surprise in this movie. But it’s easy to see why he still does what he does, because no one does it like him.
All in all, a successful experiment in tension.