Film Review | The Hateful Eight is a Tense Orgy of Ultra-Stylised Violence

The Hateful Eight - HeadStuff.org
The Hateful Eight is in Cinemas Now Source

The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino’s second foray into the western genre, following Django Unchained, is exemplary of its director’s unique talent. He merges influences seamlessly. While Ennio Morricone’s wonderfully malevolent original score evokes memories of Sergio Leone and the extreme violence reminds one of Sam Peckinpah’s westerns, there are homages to other films which should feel out of place but do not. For instance, the fourth wall breaking narrator (played by Tarantino himself), “about fifteen minutes has passed since we last met our characters”, is reminiscent of French new-wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s Brechtian alienation devices (without the pretention). As well as this, the plot of the film as it progresses, becomes less a traditional Western and more akin to an Agatha Christie mystery, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Warren character channelling Hercule Poirot at key moments within the drama. The film also flashes backwards and forwards in time in the same vein as Pulp Fiction. All these features combine to create a three-hour epic that breathes new life into a genre which, apart from some recent films like True Grit, The Assassination of Jesse James or The Salvation, is seen as old hat.

The film begins with a close-up shot of a crucifix engulfed in snow, perhaps as a metaphor for how religion plays no role in the events which transpire. The Hateful Eight revolves around John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter escorting vicious fugitive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the town of Red Rock to be hung. On the way, he picks up two men, the aforementioned Major Warren and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a man who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. A blizzard forces the four to find shelter in Minnie’s Haberdashery. On arrival Minnie (Dana Gourrier) and her husband Sweet Dave (Gene Jones) are nowhere to be found, but in their place are four men – Oswald Mobray (Tim Roth), Mexican Bob (Damian Bichir), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) and General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth believes one of the four men may be lying in order to free Daisy.

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight - HeadStuff.org
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight Source

While Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained feature moments which are undeniably menacing and unnerving, The Hateful Eight is consistently nail-bitingly tense. This is down to the central premise – nine men (the eight of the title plus stage coach driver O.B) trapped in a confined space a la Reservoir Dogs, all harbouring distrust for one another. Not only this, many such as General Sanford and Major Warren loathe each other because they fought on opposite sides in the Civil War, further increasing the hostility within the cramped surroundings in which the characters find themselves. Even moments of comedy are tinged with terror because there is a constant feeling that at any moment there could be an eruption of bloodshed. Last year’s horror It Follows is terrifying because the monster takes any form and walks normally towards its victims. Due to this, any person walking in the background evokes unease. The Hateful Eight is similar to this. The fact that we know someone within the trapped group is lying but do not know who they are or how they will reveal themselves causes every interaction to be laced with dread.

The film is surprisingly restrained for Tarantino standards in terms of bloodshed for the first 90 minutes, as it focuses on the relationships between characters. Although there are long scenes of discussion, with Tarantino’s colourful and expressive dialogue, the film remains exciting, distressing, hilarious and at times, disturbing, all in equal measure. Jackson’s character, for example, delivers a monologue to Bruce Dern’s general which is shockingly dark and depraved but also blackly comic, almost as if Tarantino was trying top the “Sicilian scene” in True Romance or the “the gold watch” monologue form Pulp Fiction.  

However, The Hateful Eight’s second half is an orgy of stylised ultra-violence. Although some could argue that the violence is gratuitous, I feel as though it only serves to heighten the thrills. The film is extremely well paced and its subtle hints and clues as to what is truly happening serve to keep the audience interested.  The audience has invested in these characters for over 90 minutes and the sense that each one could be brutally dispatched in an extremely gory manner makes the stakes feel higher. Perhaps this is cruel manipulation on Tarantino’s part but it’s hard to care when everything is so beautifully orchestrated. The vast exterior shots of snow stretching for miles are gorgeous to behold. Although most of the film is set inside Minnie’s, the shots of bright-red blood, men wielding guns and even the stew and jellies the characters eat feel cinematic, while the one place setting enables the film to achieve an over-the-top theatricality.

Samuel L. Jackson as Major Warren in The Hateful Eight - HeadStuff.org
Samuel L. Jackson as Major Warren in The Hateful Eight Source

In terms of the performances, the real standout is Jackson who is utterly mesmerizing and electrifying in the role of Major Warren. Jackson is a truly gifted actor who is often wasted in supporting roles in blockbuster films like The Avengers or XXX. He is a master at line delivery and when he works with writers like Tarantino, with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, or Spike Lee, with Jungle Fever, who specialise in monologues it’s a joy to behold. Other performers who shine are Walton Goggins’ sheriff, who has the most interesting arc out of any character, and Bruce Dern who manages to make his racist general feel complex, evoking sympathy from just a facial expression. Jennifer Jason Leigh fearlessly embraces her role as the deranged outlaw Daisy. Critics and audiences have accused the film of being misogynistic but I feel as though Tarantino is equally careless and unsympathetic to each member of his hateful bunch. Kurt Russell utilises his natural charisma for the role of the bounty hunter during the opening scenes. However, as the film progresses he adds a fear to Ruth’s eyes, as the character finally realises how in over his head he has become. When a film has eight central characters it is inevitable that some will be more developed than others. Tim Roth is slightly overly-hammy in his role of the British hangman while Michael Madsen and Damian Bichir are under-utilised. Also, credit should be given to Tarantino regular Zoe Bell (Death Proof) who is excellent in her very minor role as Six-Horse-Judy. Bell, who is predominately known as a stuntwoman, adds a much needed charm and brightness to an exciting but often bleak film filled with murderers.

Verdict: A tour-de-force of dialogue, plotting and action – The Hateful Eight is a long (although it does not feel like it), tense and exciting orgy of ultra-stylised violence by a master filmmaker. Surely one of Tarantino’s best and will certainly warrant repeat viewings for years to come.

The Hateful Eight is in cinemas now, Check out the trailer below.

 

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