Eight strangers snowed in together can go two ways: a madcap farce or a bloodbath. With Tarantino at the helm, there is no surprise which way the scenario progresses. While a high bar to clear, this may be Tarantino’s biggest gore-fest. The exhibition of blood and guts reaches a glee reminiscent of Django Unchained’s final scenes. However, the viewer’s loyalties were not divided in Django.
In The Hateful Eight, no character comes across well – all are gangsters, bounty hunters, ex-Confederate soldiers, or other unsavoury sorts driven to shelter. The most likeable of the shanty bunch may be Major Marquis Wallace (Samuel L. Jackson), but even he has his sadistic streak. Watching horrible people do horrible things to each other is not easy, especially with the blurred morality and lack of ‘sides’.
Perhaps the only ‘sides’ in the film rest in the remnants of the Civil War. There are several references throughout the film to the Confederate flag acting as a code for organised racism – an interesting development in light of Tarantino’s outraged, outspoken statements about the recent shootings of unarmed black teenagers in the United States. Much of the initial tension is based around race, and these conversations seem uncomfortably contemporary.
The post-Civil War setting and bold, blocky, colourful title sequence harken back to Django in setting and style, and the score by Enrico Morricone is excellent. The impetus behind the plot is bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) seeking the fastest route to Red Rock, where he plans to turn in his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for ten thousand dollars. The only person he half trusts is Major Wallace, a former acquaintance from the Union side.
When a blizzard drives the party indoors, they encounter the likes of a supposed sheriff and ex-Confederate guerrilla fighter (Walter Goggins), a hangman (Tim Roth), a loner who’s writing his life story (Michael Madsen), and a general still wearing his Confederate uniform. Not all characters, however, are actually who they introduce themselves to be – in some cases quite literally, in others in a more subtle way. The ‘whodunit’ that unfolds deftly balances suspense, surprise, and satisfaction.
It is with no pun intended that I would rate The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s eighth film, as an eight out of ten (well, four out of five stars on Exeposé’s scale). The main factor knocking it short of perfection is the pacing. If it were not for the promise of Tarantino glory to come, which thankfully delivered, the slow opening scenes would have irrevocably dampened the film.
As it is, they may slightly dampen the first half and make the director’s trademark dialogue-heavy style fall flat in a few places, but they do not take away from the climax. On the whole, this is not a film to be missed on the big screen, especially in 70mm format, and is no weak link in Tarantino’s oeuvre.