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“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” (Movie Review)

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In what’s billed on screen as his “8th film,” Quentin Tarantino has offered up a synthesis of his first and most recent features, a gripping, twisty thriller that should be seen in its 70mm “roadshow” version for maximum impact.

Not only will you get to see Robert Richardson’s dense, immersive cinematography in the format he and Tarantino intended, but you’ll experience the movie with a perfectly timed intermission. This breather heralds the moment when THE HATEFUL EIGHT transitions from the post-Civil War equivalent of a drawing-room mystery to something that warrants Fangorian attention. It’s essentially a study of violent men squaring off in a confined situation à la RESERVOIR DOGS in the revisionist-Western style of DJANGO UNCHAINED, with hints here and there of other previous Tarantino films along the way.

This is not to suggest that the filmmaker is simply repeating or rehashing himself, as THE HATEFUL EIGHT stands out in the way his work, even at its most homagistic, always has: via vividly written, perfectly cast characters. While accepting his Best Screenplay Oscar for DJANGO, Tarantino remarked that when casting one’s own script, a director has that single shot at getting it right, and he has certainly done so here. Kurt Russell, having a big year in violent Westerns with this and BONE TOMAHAWK, is perfectly cast as bounty hunter John Ruth, who’s known as “The Hangman” because he always brings ’em in alive for the executioner to send to their final rewards. He’s transporting an untamed woman named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) through the snows of Wyoming toward her appointment with the noose; what she’s done isn’t specified, but it was enough to inspire a $10,000 price on her head. (Leigh is excellent too, and if you watch the film’s lengthy first section wondering why she’s gaining so much awards talk when she’s not doing very much…just wait.) Circumstances lead Ruth to be joined on his trip by another bounty hunter, Maj. Marquis Warren (Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson, as cool as ever), and cocky Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, a relative newcomer to the director’s ensemble who fits in perfectly), about to be appointed sheriff in Red Rock, where Daisy’s final moments are to transpire.

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The first 40 or so minutes consist of these four gabbing and challenging each other in and out of their stagecoach, and the talk crackles with enough figurative heat to withstand the strongest blizzard. Just such a snowstorm is actually encroaching, however, so the group takes shelter at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a middle-of-nowhere establishment where Minnie herself is absent, and the travelers are instead greeted by a couple of the Reservoir Dogs: Tim Roth, enthusiastically fopping his way through his lines and stealing many a scene as actual hangman Oswaldo Mobray, and Michael Madsen, as a mysterious sort named Joe Gage who’s in the midst of writing his autobiography. Also on hand are Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), tending to the place in Minnie’s absence, and veteran Confederate general Sandy Smithers (a welcome Bruce Dern).

Not all of these eight seem initially hateful, but everyone bears internal scars from the recently concluded war, and they all know each other, at least by reputation, and definitely don’t all like each other. Warren, the lone African-American in the group, unsurprisingly inspires enmity among some of the other stranded men, particularly when an atrocity in his past comes to light. Tensions rise highest between him and Smithers, which leads to a monologue, illustrated with flashbacks, that’s startlingly direct and obscene even for a Tarantino film. It’s so calculated to outrage that one gets the feeling the speaker could be making it up just to bait its addressee, but either way, it sparks the first firing of one of the guns that have been proffered and aimed constantly throughout the preceding hour and a half. And then…it’s Intermission time.

When we return, the tone could be described as taking a playful turn, if the spilling of gallons of blood could be described with that adjective. (Indeed, some of the preview audience took the carnage itself as humorous, though it’s played by Tarantino with brutal, unexaggerated seriousness.) The simmering unease of the interpersonal conflict gives way to spiky, dark-humored exchanges as the characters turn on each other in extremely brutal fashion, with makeup FX creators Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger earning their prominent end-titles credit, though it’s not just the punchy explicitness of the violence that makes HATEFUL EIGHT’s second section work. The circumstances don’t proceed at all the way you’ll likely expect them to, and Tarantino keeps you guessing throughout about the characters’ motivations, allegiances and likelihood of dying. Even as he pours on the crimson spectacle, he anchors your attention in his people.

Along the way, he throws in little visual shout-outs to classic fright cinema: The opening-credits image recalls THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a couple of overhead tracking shots echo THE EVIL DEAD, etc. Ennio Morricone contributes marvelously appropriate, doomy music, though a few passages of this “original score” will be familiar to anyone who owns the soundtrack to John Carpenter’s THE THING. That movie, in fact, may be THE HATEFUL EIGHT’s most direct horror forebear, with its snowbound men falling victim to suspicion and paranoia and explosions of graphic gore. Once again, though, Tarantino makes HATEFUL EIGHT its own movie, a galvanizing and gruesome saga of very specific people falling victim to their own very specifically engendered fates.

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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