By Thomas Simpson
The Hateful Eight sees Quentin Tarantino return to the Western genre three years after Django Unchained. There are subtle references to his previous film (and even subtler ones to his older films), the director was quick to clarify that this wouldn’t be a sequel to Django although it appears it would exist in his shared universe.
Known for his excessive violence and gratuitous language, the trademark Tarantinoisms are evident in The Hateful Eight, this is also a character study that lives up to its title. It’s difficult to find any sympathy lurking in the main characters.
When eight strangers seek refuge from a blizzard at a stagecoach lodge, tensions begin to rise with trust nowhere to be found. The histories of each one is slowly revealed proving them to be more loathsome with every revelation. These people are racist, conniving, manipulative, greedy, sadistic killers and they’re confined with nothing much to do. It has shades of Reservoir Dogs but around the mid-way point there’s a shift in the plot that makes this a Western whodunit that is sure to give you a jolt if you feared that after an hour and half that this was going nowhere.
The Hateful Eight is long and it feels it. Tarantino is able to write some amazing dialogue however the script takes a while to get going and unfortunately it takes until the third chapter (of which there are six) before we get to the lodge. There are important elements in those first two chapters that are pivotal to the plot, yet much of those scenes could’ve been left on the cutting room floor.
It’s also difficult to defend the repetitive racial and misogynistic slurs. Not because they’re likely to cause offense, it’s that they swiftly lose all meaning. With previous films I’ve agreed with the writer/director that that’s how the characters talk, here it feels lazy with the abuse losing impact, for the right reasons, quickly.
The script may be questionable though there is no denying the beauty of the filmmaking. Teaming up with regular cinematographer Robert Richardson, each shot is wonderfully framed with the lodge made to feel like a boiling pot just waiting to explode at any given time. Paired with Ennio Morricone’s jarring score, it’s uncomfortable viewing, for the right reasons.
Tarantino can elicit special performances from his cast and that’s no different here. Everyone is on form with Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh in particular scene stealing roles. Everyone hams it up a little to emphasize just how abhorrent they are. This does make it difficult to root for anyone and by the third act you realize it’s about siding with the lesser of evils, although that in itself is disputable.
Despite a dull first act sprinkled with self-indulgence throughout, The Hateful Eight is a brilliant film even if takes a long time to realize it. It has enough positives to outweigh its flaws. There isn’t much wrong with it except the negatives are glaring and at times monotonous. It’ll be interesting to see where Tarantino goes from here but it’s probably best he leaves the Wild West behind for his next project.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.