Let me state this without any sense of sarcasm or irony, or embarrassment: I love Quentin Tarantino. I love his work. I love his style. I love his lack of shame at the fact that he takes ideas from other movies (nothing’s original anymore, so why pretend?). I love the cinematography style of his work, the music he picks for various fight scenes, the chemistry he builds between the characters, either warring or friendly in nature. I generally find that I can’t fault him. But…this time I feel that The Hateful Eight isn’t his best work. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not his best.
I finally got to see his new movie on the 30th of January. My boyfriend had already seen it and didn’t tell me anything about it, lest he ruin any details about the characters or the story. Going into it, I already knew that the movie’s creation had been through the wars, as far as Tarantino was concerned.
Cast your minds back to the start of 2014. Writer, director and (as much as we’d prefer if he wasn’t) ‘actor’ Tarantino’s script for his new movie The Hateful Eight has been leaked online by Gawker. The decision is made, after abandoning an attempt to sue Gawker, to scrap the movie altogether, with the possibility of making it into a book instead. Tarantino will later come back to the idea of filming The Hateful Eight, and in April of that year he will direct a live reading of the script at the United Artists Theater in the Ace Hotel, Los Angeles. After going through a number of rewrites (and a new ending), we now have the final vision of The Hateful Eight.
In spite of rewrites, the movie follows through a frustrating number of Tarantino’s previously overused movie tropes. Although one would argue that to a certain extent, these should instead be seen as trademarks of a director’s work, in Tarantino’s case it appears to be more like he’s relying on the tropes to reassure the audience at certain points that yes, this definitely is one of his movies. For one, there is liberal use of the n word, mostly to garner some cheap laughs, with Daisy Domergue (played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh) even greeting Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Major Marquis Warren, with the words “Howdy, n*gger”. Excuse it as much as you like on a historical level, like many did with Django Unchained (many others, Spike Lee included, felt that Tarantino was ‘infatuated with that word’, but not in a good way by any means) but use of it for often comedic effect leaves a rather bitter taste in my mouth, especially considering Tarantino’s recent activism work in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. One trope he has adopted in recent years is the action of introducing music during a scene, then suddenly cutting to the next scene with a sharp silence. A minor quibble, but one that has served to make audiences slightly confused and uneasy with the ever-changing emotional barometer of his movie’s scores. This has previously occurred in both Django and Inglourious Basterds, both of which have been accused of rewriting history in certain ways. The Hateful Eight can be added to that roster too (Warren mentions fighting against a Confederate character in the Battle of Baton Rouge, which took place in 1862, a full year before African-American troops saw combat). But I suppose many film goers will forgive Tarantino for his fantastical re-tellings of history, in favour of seeing what he’s best known for: gore.
As with his previous two outings, Tarantino makes the audience wait for the bloodletting. It is well over an hour before you see any blood in the movie that isn’t running from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s face, having been beaten black and blue by Kurt Russell’s John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth for a great deal of the movie, in a move that would almost make you feel pity for her as the only female role in roughly 90% of its running time. But, as we’ve come to expect from Tarantino, when the blood begins flowing, courtesy of Daisy Domergue’s devious and brutal escape plan, it certainly doesn’t stop.
Think back to when you first saw Reservoir Dogs. Remember how horrified you were when the opening credits finished rolling, and you were faced with Tim Roth writhing around in the backseat of a car, howling in agony, his shirt drenched in his own blood that should be flowing comfortably inside his body rather than soaking into his pristine white shirt and permanently staining the car’s upholstery. Remember how gut-wrenching his screams were, as he held Harvey Keitel’s hand, utterly convinced he was going to die. After that he is indeed left to die, albeit slowly, and in the background. Tarantino goes to great lengths to replicate that feeling in 21st century audiences. The explosive release of blood from Kurt Russell’s mouth is sudden and horrifying (even after spending years watching and re-watching Tarantino’s movie, I still got a shock when the blood finally appeared), but in a way, after spending so long learning about the characters, their various squabbles with each other, their wildly different personalities being forced to hunker down and tolerate each other during the storm, it’s oddly satisfying to have the pay-off be so worth the time spent listening to them bicker almost endlessly, with it almost acting as a release of building-up pressure in the story, helped along of course by Ennio Morricone’s score taken directly from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Tarantino clearly took a great deal of inspiration from that last movie. 1982, released two weeks after E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. One movie saying that aliens from other worlds are super-friendly little old men, the other saying they’ll live inside you like a horrifying tapeworm, and eventually destroy the world. Well, one thing Tarantino took from John Carpenter’s The Thing was the isolation, the frustration of being locked in an enclosed space with people who may or may not be out to kill you. That, and the soundtrack. Okay, two things. The snow. Three things. Shit.
Okay, it’s basically John Carpenter’s The Thing with no aliens and more blood. Fuck, even Kurt Russell is in both of them.