Quentin Tarantino has never been one to shy away from violence or controversy, so fans should expect nothing less from his newest film, The Hateful Eight. The film begins with an ominous tone as the audience sits through full orchestral swells with the words OVERTURE written on the screen. Anticipation builds and tension is born before the first cinematic image is even on screen. Aside from some quirky, Tarantino-esque humor, the rest of the film follows the same dramatic, drawn out atmosphere, including a twelve minute intermission, all shot on beautiful 70mm film.
The drawling yet completely thrilling film follows the intertwining story of eight wandering, gritty strangers in the Post-Civil war era who ultimately end up stuck together in a tension-ridden cabin in the middle of a blizzard. Tarantino pulls from all of the stereotypes and tropes of the western genre, including bounty hunters, gunfights, sprawling landscapes, and of course, vengeance. Aside from a handful of the flashbacks, most of the backstory and plot are revealed through the characters witty and anxiety-ridden dialogue. If anyone doubted Tarantino’s mastery of storytelling and screenwriting before, this movie will change their mind. Each character has a completely distinct personality and the actors’ chemistry is undeniable.
The whiskered bounty-hunter John Roth (Kurt Russell) is attempting to bring Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to be hung for a crime that remains a mystery for most of the movie, and is determined that nothing is going to get in his way. Leigh’s performance as Domergue is certainly unforgettable and reminds audiences of the viability of an actress that can portray such an important role with such little words. Fans will encounter many other familiar faces from films of Tarantino’s past, including Tim Roth from Reservoir Dogs and Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction.
This film is all about timing. The character’s development and interaction is all wired down to a science. The three-hour film takes all the time it needs to introduce characters, conflict, and resolution. The beginning is slow and a bit drawling in order to lure audiences in. The slow-rising tension between the very distinct characters keeps viewers on the edge of their seat. Classic Tarantino fans are simply waiting for the bloodbath that will inevitably ensue.
However, buried underneath all the violence, vile language, and sometimes downright uncomfortable humor, there is a racially-charged story that centers on Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a tough and resilient black man, and quite frankly one of the strongest characters Mr. Jackson has ever portrayed. Much like in his film Django Unchained, Tarantino has a message about inequality and he intends to deliver it as in-your-face as he can. The frequent use of the n-word is intended to provoke an uncomfortable feeling in the audience and cause unrest. He’s laying it on thick, in classic Tarantino style.
The cinematography in this film is gorgeous. The snowy shots of the landscape are absolutely breathtaking. The striking beauty of the landscape harshly contrasts with the dark and violent nature of the storyline taking place. There are many scenes of horses galloping along the snow and wide shots of rolling hills. Even amongst all the blood and gore, the audience will find themselves struck with awe and grace at the oddest moments. There is a sort of whiplash that occurs at the film goes from wide, grand landscapes, to stuck in a cabin in close quarters, turning into a more personal and up-close film that the first half. Of course, during that more personal second half, fans of Tarantino will get what they’re waiting for- an absolute blood bath. It simply wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without it. Whether or not you believe the gore cheapens the film or adds to its artistry- it’ll be delivered.
So, if you’re going to the theater wanting to see a simple holiday, feel good film, do yourself a favor and see a different movie. Tarantino throws all the violence, gore, and smoldering subtext he’s got at the audience. You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable. You’re supposed to feel shocked. And you’re supposed to feel a bit disgusted.
As a Tarantino fan, I wouldn’t expect anything less.