The Hateful Eight sounds like it could be the perfect Tarantino film. Set in the years after the American Civil War, it follows a group of travellers stuck together in a cabin while they wait for a blizzard to subside. Each stranger is mysterious, dangerous, and seemingly untrustworthy and after a sequence of events it becomes apparent that one or more of them is not who they appear to be. A chamber drama that makes use of an eclectic cast and relies mostly on dialogue to drive the plot forward sounds as though it should play directly into the director’s strengths; unfortunately the end product was simply an overindulgent drawn out mess that not only left me with a sour taste in my mouth but a feeling of discomfort and bitterness towards what I had just seen.
Firstly there is the issue of pacing. This film is entirely too long for its own good. It takes roughly an hour and a half for anything plot substantial to actually occur and by that point it would be hard to blame anyone for being bored. While the scenes prior to this are used fairly well to flesh out characters, there’s just too much treading in one spot to be really interesting. Then there’s the baffling decision to split the film into literal chapters with title cards, absolutely butchering the temporal flow. While this technique has been used well by Tarantino himself in past films, it just did not fit the tone here and felt intrusive and unnecessary. There are six chapters in total and as each ends the film fades to black seemingly as if it were a cliff-hanger finale to a chapter in a novel. While it’s easy to see what Tarantino was going for, each time I found that the cut to black disrupted the action more than anything else; it felt jarring and took me out of the film every time it happened.
All of this being said I found myself invested for the most part, until the intermission (only present in the 70mm version of the film). While not much had really happened thus far I was still interested to see where the plot would go, and to see what character(s) were not who they claimed to be. Immediately after the intermission there is a hilariously bad narration by none other than Tarantino himself, who clues the audience in to what has happened since we last saw the characters. It sounded so out of place that I almost thought it couldn’t possibly be the real narration they chose for the final film, and I really wish I was right. This was essentially the point of no return. I do not wish to spoil anything that happens for those that do watch it, but almost every single plot point that occurs after this moment felt unsatisfactory and wrong in every way. Every possible turn the story decided to take felt disappointing and pointless, up to and including the conclusion. The latter half is also significantly violent to a fault, easily featuring the most violence of any of the director’s films. I know Tarantino loves his over the top gore – I get it – but the violence in this film is gratuitous and almost distasteful. Unlike the fun, over-the-top unrealistic violence of Kill Bill or Django Unchained, violence here is represented in a fetishized way that feels uncomfortable to look at because we are seemingly supposed to get some sort of thrill from it.
The performances are fine across the board however every single role is overacted in a noticeable almost distracting way. Since it is clear that this was intentional I wouldn’t consider it a misstep but it did feel strange. Walton Goggins and Kurt Russel both deliver strong enthusiastic performances and they are really the only cast members that I would say were anything more than serviceable. The dialogue is classic Tarantino with some lines and conversations feeling almost like a parody of the director’s own style. Characters talk like they are in 1940s western serials, and I’m not sure if he broke his personal record for how many times the ‘N’ word can be uttered in a film, but he sure tried.
The Hateful Eight is a baffling misstep by a director that has proven time and again he is capable of much better. The unnecessarily bloated runtime and contrived plot make what should be an enjoyable experience helmed by a director in his prime a tedious and demanding affair. At best The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s weakest work; at worst it’s a real stinker. If you are a huge Tarantino fan I can’t imagine that you won’t be at least slightly disappointed – all else best steer clear.