Yep, I’m calling it now. The Hateful Eight is also a Thanksgiving movie you can pop in and clear your house with if you end up with relatives arguing about politics or sports when all they really need to do is show up and shut up when they’re stuffing their faces with whatever tasty treats you’ve prepared. Note to turkey preppers: get that frozen bird defrosted and/or in a brine NOW (as in don’t wait until Wednesday night to fuss with a frozen bird) so you can have it all ready to pop in the oven and done up right. You fresh turkey buyers have an extra day as long as that bird doesn’t go into the freezer.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Yeah, you’ll be thankful for this film because you’re not going to find a more gorgeously shot yet hilariously amoral American film (well, one made by Quentin Tarantino) where you might go in expecting one thing but get exactly what you didn’t think you’d get. Let’s put it this way, if ever a title meant anything, it’s this film’s. Upshot nutshell: Eight not so nice (SO not so nice) people meet and otherwise interact in a cabin they’re trapped in during an epic snowstorm. Not everyone survives the experience. Nutshot upsell: Oh, boy is this film violent as hell. No one is spared from the talented folks at KNB Effects Group as they gore things up with some impressive practical effects. The film is about much more than than, although it kind of takes its sweet time in making its points.
Granted, pretty much all of those points are solved by assorted forms of violence and the need for a drink or three of your own before it all ends. But the film is mighty damn pretty to look at at least until you’re trapped indoors with its room full of suspects talking themselves blue in the face as the story plays out. Let’s see now: Bounty Hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) has the infamous criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) handcuffed to him as the pair make the treacherous trip to Red Rock where Ruth plans to hang Daisy for her crimes. The stagecoach they’re in comes across two travelers (one at a time): Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) a black bounty hunter and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former confederate soldier. Somehow, you know these four aren’t going to get along at all right from the start.
They all end up at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a nice enough joint to stay for a spell despite a busted door and some unusual characters inside enjoying the missing Minnie and her husband’s hospitality. There’s Bob (Demian Bichir), a genial Mexican running the place (he says Minnie and her hubby have gone to visit her sick mother), Englishman Oswaldo Mohray (Tim Roth), who claims to be Red Rock’s hangman, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy allegedly going to visit his own momma, and last but not least, General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a former confederate general. Let’s just say things get interesting before and after the body count rises.
Tarantino’s use of the 70mm Ultra Panavision format is absolutely breathtaking in terms of the outdoor sequences. If you’ve got a big HDTV, missed this in the theater, and have a strong stomach, pop in this disc and get that popcorn going (you’re making that popcorn in a kettle or on the stove right? Good). This is a film where you’ll need to sit down and soak in as much as possible. Oh yeah, and open the windows if it’s cold outside, as that adds to the atmosphere in those show scenes. That said, once the action moves into Minnie’s, the film more or less turns into a tense mystery film with a cruel edge as secrets are revealed and the bodies start dropping. There’s a load of talking and cheap detective work as Ruth disarms everyone but Warren, which turns out to be a bad thing for General Smithers as things go south (ha-ha) for that crusty old coot after a nasty confession from Warren about Smithers’ son and his equally nasty fate.
Things go from bad to worse when poison coffee claims a few more victims and later, the film goes into another gear as we discover what actually happened to Minnie, her husband and almost anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity when the men inside arrived. This scene in particular is probably the hardest to watch thanks to some fine acting and the pure brutality exhibited by the killers. You’re not going to like any of the people stuck at Minnie’s when they all arrive earlier, but you’ll hate the murderers even more (most likely). As noted, it’s all too clear Tarantino is trying to make a few points here (historical and otherwise) just as it’s clear you don’t go to see a Tarantino film and not expect some pretty intense violence that usually builds up to a boiling point of sorts. This film is pretty much all boiling point with a slow cooker beginning that disguises somewhat what’s to come.
Of course, there’s a ton of humor here as well, but it’s mostly grim and often at the expense of Leigh’s unfortunate Daisy Domergue. Like the men around her, she’s not a sympathetic character at all, but she’s constantly getting hit (mostly by Ruth) and by the end, it’s tough to feel for her plight because she’s nearly as brutal as the others. The sole light spot in the film is stagecoach driver O.B. (James Parks), who just does what he’s told and has no skin in the game (which pretty much seals his fate in a pretty crappy manner). The latter chunk of the film is more or less an extended bloodbath as we see all the secrets exposed that all lead to a pretty damn gloomy ending with a slight dry chuckle slapped on for good measure.
As usual, Tarantino’s ear for music is great yet hit and miss in spots, but getting Ennio Morricone to do the score was a masterstroke. Interestingly enough, Tarantino also sneaks in a few unused tracks from John Carpenter’s still essential horror flick The Thing, which makes one disgusting scene quite hilarious if you’re a fan of that film and Morricone’s minimalist score for it. I can’t say I’m fond of the director’s penchant for using more popular modern music in such a classically styled western, but that’s just me, I guess. It kind of sucks me out of a film shot so well and full of period detail to hear head-bopping beats roll in and mess with my head.
Anyway, yes, it’s gory as all get out and sure, the script isn’t flawless by a long shot. But it all works well and if you have the time to sit through the normal 168-minute cut or the longer 187-minute Roadshow version, you’ll have a pretty grand old time with this one. The only other drawback I can think of is if that relative you’re trying to get to leave actually likes the film and wants to stay. Um, that’s when you kind of want to reach for that turkey leg and use it as a club, but please don’t do that. That’s meat for a good turkey sandwich for the day after you’d be wasting. Or some nice soup. Unless of course, you ate the evidence and blamed that bashing on an overexcited pet knocking your unrepentant flag-waving relative out of his or her chair (oops).