My favourite two Quentin Tarantino films are Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – his first and second movie. I believe The Hateful Eight to be his best work since, and, he reckons, his last film ever. If this is the case, then to go out on this movie is not bad at all.
The film revolves around nine characters (apparently the stagecoach driver isn’t important enough to be counted as one of the “Eight”) trapped, by a blizzard, inside a cabin. These eight are Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), John Ruth (Kurt Russell), Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Smithers (Bruce Dern). Ruth is transporting Domergue to the nearby town of Red Rock, where she is to be hanged. Suspecting an ally of Domergue’s to be hiding in the cabin, Ruth disarms all other inhabitants bar Warren.
What follows is a tense, hours-long ordeal full of mistrust and deceit, as the inhabitants attempt to determine which person is the ally of Domergue – if such an ally even exists. If this sounds familiar, it may be because it is very similar to Tarantino’s first film: Reservoir Dogs. Both films are set almost entirely within the one room, have small casts and revolve around uncovering a traitor in the midst. This may be part of the reason I enjoyed this movie so thoroughly – Tarantino returned to a formula with which he has excelled in the past, though now with over twenty years further experience behind him (not to mention thirty-seven times the budget).
None of our characters are especially good people (Mostly racists, rapists, liars and murderers) and yet Tarantino manages to elicit some amount of sympathy for nearly all of them. The cast helps this along, with fantastic performances across the board (in particular from Goggins and Roth), and Leigh easily earns her Academy Award nomination.
All of the indoor scenes are lit theatrically, rather than cinematically, with sharp spotlights over the areas of interest. Much of the time, these are disguised with diegetic light-sources, but often-times they are also just… there. This wasn’t a problem for me, it actually felt rather quaint. The cinematography itself was gorgeous, both within and without the cabin. There was a fantastic, cute trick used as Domergue plays a guitar, occasionally observing the area behind her, with the camera focusing and unfocusing each time she looks up from the instrument. Subtle techniques, such as this, were bountiful throughout the film, and made it all the more enjoyable. Ennio Morricone brings a good score to the film, and the costumes were fantastic – I loved Warren’s coat, in particular.
The film is an incredible exercise in blending comedy and tension, with one scene even reaching the levels felt in the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds – a level I had previously considered impossible to match. With an excellent script and excellent direction, as well a fantastic cast, it’s a near-perfect film, and the best 2015 movie I’ve seen.