Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino through and through.
As has been Tarantino’s mandate over his more recent filmography Hateful Eight is a lengthy, expertly crafted film with endlessly quotable dialogue. And yet despite heights that should be nothing short of accessible to any filmgoer Hateful Eight is also a series of off-putting descents into pop cruelty, as has been Tarantino’s mandate always and forever. Casual brutality creeps into Hateful Eight like doves in a John Woo movie and as Woo said of his own penitent for doves in the M:I 2 DVD bonus features, you can’t help but think Tarantino just can’t help himself.
Tarantino’s continued insistence on marrying his imaginative characters and dialogue to such ham-fisted carnage eight films into his career can be, and seemingly has been, construed as a lack of growth. Instead I would assert that Hateful Eight represents a refinement, a streamlining of Tarantino’s filmmaking.
The coolest thing about Hateful Eight is that if you or I wanted to we could get our hands on the script and put it on ourselves with seven of our closest friends. A vast majority of the film is either four people in a stage coach or eight people in a cabin and the driving narrative force is a sort of us vs. them mentality wherein no one seems to know exactly who “us” or “them” are.
The small scale and simple premise strip Tarantino’s trademarks, be they dialogue or violence, down to their bones. There aren’t any elaborate set pieces between the audience and these malicious characters so when the film does repeatedly descend into a bloodbath you feel like you need to lift your feet off the theater floor to keep the blood off of your shoes.
Hateful Eight forces you to confront your feelings about Tarantino’s dogmatic insistence on violence because there’s nothing to distract you from it. The simplicity and intimacy of the film doesn’t give you a choice. The dialogue Hateful Eight pushes us to have with ourselves about violence is its most inspired trait.
There’s the continued casual beating of the immediately unlikable antagonist at the hands of the classically-handsome protagonist that seems to mask some sort of unseen brutality brimming beneath the surface.
There’s arguably the most heinous act of violence, performed (or was it performed?) and recounted by arguably the most likable character. Is it justice? Does it cross a line? Why?
There’s explosions of carnage played off, quite effectively, like punchlines.
And there’s the bloody climax, shot and played off like a sweeping triumph and ultimately wrapping the film up in a sort of off kilter pall.
You might watch Hateful Eight and see each sequence of violence with the same eyes, but I’d doubt it. The film excels at presenting brutality in different contexts designed to evoke different feelings. The nutrition in Tarantino’s latest comes from examining how you feel about the various depictions of violence within and why you feel that way about them.
Much like its seven predecessors Hateful Eight is still Quentin Tarantino through and through, but it is by no means a regression.