Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is a tense, western-themed waiting game that follows the forcing together of a group of strangers as they shield from a raging blizzard. Suspense builds as characters reveal their backstories and it soon becomes apparent that not everyone is trusting or accepting of what they hear.
Set in the post-civil war era, among the snow-enveloped hills of Wyoming, we’re introduced to ex-slave, anti-confederate bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), bounty hunter, John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (brilliantly played by Kurt Russell) and Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – John Ruth’s outspoken prisoner whose unnerving grin suggests an almost demonic persona.
The trio head by coach to the town of Red Rock, picking up confederate-supporte, Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) on the way. His strong opinions set the tone for the North/South division that rears its head throughout. John Ruth interrogates them about their motives for being on the road, convinced they’re after his $10,000 bounty reward. He continues to make his suspicions clear when they happen to meet four more strangers on route to Red Rock, each with their own stories to tell, at Minnie’s isolated haberdashery.
In a similar fashion to Reservoir Dogs, the majority of action takes place within one setting. John Ruth moves between characters, making us assess whether appearances can be trusted – from the jovial, English hangman (Tim Roth) to the brooding cowboy who doesn’t seem like the ‘coming home for Christmas type.’ The conversations waver between humorous exchanges and uneasy stand-offs while the audience waits on tenterhooks for the inevitable Tarantino bloodbath to ensue.
Meanwhile, in a moment of calm among the storm, ex-slave Marquis Warren and general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) of the southern confederate army meet on neutral ground having divided the hut into the ‘North side’ and ‘South side.’ As Silent Night is played gently on the piano (reminiscent of the Christmas Truce) the pair share personal truths over a warm pot of stew. This lulls us into a false sense of security as Tarantino suggests the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but of course it isn’t long before the conversation takes an abrupt turn and the piano is swiftly SLAMMED SHUT.
The theme of redemption is nodded towards at the beginning, as the camera pans away from a giant, snow-covered statue of Jesus on the cross. However, as the truths behind the characters unravel, it becomes clear why the symbolic structure stands deserted amongst the hills, bereft of humanity aside from the horse-drawn coach that rambles swiftly past it.
Tarantino’s ‘hateful eight’ are as the title describes them. Prepare yourself for 3 hours and 7 minutes of well-scripted discussion, disinhibiting moments of comedy and twisted violence from eight individuals, with the only seemingly tender moments arising from the strangely nurturing qualities of John Ruth towards his prisoner. In between bouts of aggressive violence of course.
Although it’s a little longer than it needs to be, the ‘whodunnit’-in-reverse, combined with the dangerous undertones of the characters keep the audience hooked – desperate to find out whether accusations are justified or rather, fuelled by paranoia. On top of this, we’re wondering who will actually make it to Red Rock alive?
I’d still give this 4 flicks, but if you don’t like lots dialogue flashes of extreme violence, maybe give this one a miss.