The self-proclaimed eighth film by Quentin Tarantino, the first few seconds of The Hateful Eight resemble a classic Western, with a silent wilderness landscape and swelling music – then the opening credits begin and it’s clear that this is going to be very different. Set in a wintry Wyoming sometime after the end of the Civil War, we begin with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) taking his latest prize, Daisy Domargue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to be hanged. After picking up two more passengers, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), their stagecoach is overtaken by a blizzard and forced to seek shelter at the isolated Minnie’s Haberdashery. Four more men are already in residence (Demian Bichir, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen and Tim Roth), and they’re now facing two or three days shut up together until the weather dies down. And just to ensure that tempers are going to flare, Ruth is convinced that somebody present is conspiring to rescue Domargue.
This is a long movie – my screening was just under three hours – and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I never felt bored. This is in spite of the fact that things definitely go at a slow pace, nothing is ever rushed, and there are quite a few scenes where not much is actually happening. Ultimately, a number of different elements combine to keep the film compelling. There are plenty of scenes where the characters just sit around and talk about things not directly related to the main plot, as in other Tarantino films, and these are all still well-written and engaging. The tension is constant: characters point guns at each other so often that you keep expecting somebody to get shot without any warning. (Or maybe that was just me because I watched The Departed recently.)
The extreme environment also sucks you in: from within the haberdashery, the howling of the blizzard outside is a constant presence. The acting from everybody involved is brilliant: Samuel L Jackson dominates as he so often does, and I also particularly liked Tim Roth’s English hangman Oswaldo Mobray. The plot keeps throwing up various new elements to keep things fresh; around the third act, the twists get especially intriguing. The film even tries to catch you off guard about halfway through by briefly throwing in a self-aware narrator.
It may also help that when something does happen to advance the plot, it’s usually so big and shocking that the effects linger in your mind. This is about as far from an idealised portrayal of the Wild West as you can get; it’s extremely brutal and more akin to the video game Red Dead Redemption. Even when nobody’s actually being killed on screen, there’s a theme of death throughout, in what the characters are doing and what they discuss. When Major Warren first appears on screen, for example, he’s accompanied by the bodies of his latest bounties. Not long after, he and Mannix discuss Warren’s questionable actions during the Civil War: Mannix actually lampshades the predictable excuse that “war is hell” and suggests deeper explanations. Even when two characters are working in the middle of the raging blizzard at one point, there’s organ music that gets gradually louder, sounding like a funeral. We may be alarmed towards the beginning when Daisy Domargue receives some abrupt and heavy blows to the head and face (not that she doesn’t deserve it – these are not nice people), but that’s just a taste of what’s coming: there’s some serious blood and gore along the way, but what else do you expect from Tarantino?
Ultimately, if you like Quentin Tarantino movies in general, I recommend The Hateful Eight. It provides what you would expect of Tarantino’s trademark style, and is a fascinating, excellently constructed film – though certainly not for the squeamish. Rating: 5/5!