Quentin Tarantino has delivered yet another bloody cinematic tribute in his eighth and latest film, The Hateful Eight. The film uses Tarantino’s trademark blend of violent genre hybrids, complex dialogue and filmic allusions to bring together an assembly of misfits in the wilds of Wyoming, post Civil War.
John Ruth ‘The Hangman’ (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter en route to Red Rock; his prize in tow takes the form of Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth has hired a stage coach and driver to cart him and his cargo exclusively in order to deliver Daisy to the judge and executioner. As they travel through the snowy setting, they encounter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), his own bounty in tow in the form of several dead bodies. Stranded without a horse, he joins the party trying to make it to Red Rock ahead of an encroaching blizzard. Soon they are joined by another itinerant, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) on his way to take up the post of Sherriff in Red Rock.
Now a party of five, the travellers arrive at Millie’s Haberdashery where they will be forced to wait out the blizzard. Part saloon, part store, Millie’s is housing the temporary caretaker in Bob, a former confederate general, a writerly cowboy and an actual hangman. As the new party settles in, it becomes clear that not everyone is who they seem and all of the inhabitants of Millie’s are harbouring a secret.
Most of The Hateful Eight is set in the one room of Millie’s or the interior of the stagecoach cabin, with a few trips to the barn and outhouse and establishing shots of the blizzard and landscape. There seems to be an experimental quality to the one room drama, the space mutating and becoming smaller or larger according to shifting narrative demands. Every aspect of the space and contents are utilised – from ceiling beams and cracks in the floorboards to blankets and hats, a blue and white coffee pot, and one small, red jellybean. The one room brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), with the tension of enclosure, secrets to be revealed and a limited cast to inhabit the tight space.
The film is true to Tarantino’s style; his penchant for violence and gore, his tributes to specific films and artists (and tributes to cinema itself), his composite of genre imagery and conventions. Most obvious and predominant are references to Westerns, both classic and spaghetti, with snippets from John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. In particular, Tarantino has enlisted Ennio Morricone for the score. This is not as good as the score to Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), but is still emotive and brilliant.
Criticisms of The Hateful Eight are mostly nit-picking, but there are a few. Some of the dialogue is clunky: wordy for the sake of wordiness, not necessarily contributing to the overall film. But this is common of Tarantino, lots of postulation from his characters, storytelling within the storytelling. The script does not seem like a stretch for the writer/director, an indulgence rather than pushing himself into new terrain. But he is finessing his trademark style, and Tarantino delivers on what he does best.
The Hateful Eight is in select cinemas in 70mm from 14th January, and has digital wide release from 21st January through Roadshow Films.