At what point does violence in a movie become violence for its own sake? When does it become an ill-advised occasion to show off special effects, rather than a lens into the darkness of the characters’ souls and, by extension, humanity’s? I don’t think there are any definitive answers for these admittedly abstract questions; I think too much violence is something we recognize when we see it. I saw it in the first hour of The Hateful Eight, and that was the relatively tame part.
John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell) got his nickname because he always–always–takes his bounties in to hang. Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his current bounty (whom he beats horribly), is no different. On his way to Red Rock, with Daisy shackled to his side, The Hangman picks up fellow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and newly elected sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). A Wyoming blizzard strands their stagecoach at Minnie’s Haberdashery, Hollywood’s version of an Old West B&B, filled with a group of suspicious, supposedly unrelated, travelers. Major Warren and The Hangman agree: something isn’t right with this crowd. The two team up to keep an eye on Domergue and protect the Hangman’s bounty, and as the often-artificial and forced bottleneck plot progresses, Tarantino revels in every opportunity to gruesomely kill or maim anyone he can, throwing gore at us like a troublesome boy throwing pizza in a food fight.
Tarantino’s critics often chastise his films for their violence, but I’m far from one of Tarantino’s harshest critics. I’m a self-described fanboy. And maybe it’s because I love Tarantino’s work so much, particularly his early work, that I was so disappointed with The Hateful Eight, a film that is not simply violent but gratuitously sadistic. Tarantino’s films are normally brutal, but they have an essential brutality, one that feels natural to the meticulous plot. They force us to look at ourselves and ask why on earth we enjoyed the movie. But the brutality in The Hateful Eight just forces us to look away. Quickly.
The plot is shoddy, with no hard-earned intricacy to speak of. There are a few twists, but they prop, instead of propel. And all of the twists provide yet another impetus for unconscionable brutality.
Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Daisy Domergue, is the gush fest’s saving grace. She is vile and indolent and loud, but she more than anyone else in the cast demands we look past the poor-horror-film style make-up and see Daisy as a real person, albeit a disgusting person. She shouts and throws tantrums like a misbehaving little girl; she is completely unabashed.
I wrote in my earlier review of The Hateful Eight’s trailer that I wasn’t expecting greatness, but I was expecting a solid film. A solid Tarantino film. This isn’t a solid Tarantino film. Instead this looks like a bad Tarantino parody. Maybe, as the film’s indulgent promotional materials attest, Tarantino’s hubris clouded his vision. Maybe Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were his magna opera.
As of now, Tarantino will be remembered for his early masterpieces, and rightly so: Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are two of the best films of the past 30 years. But the folklore surrounding Tarantino says that he plans to direct ten films in total, so there are two more opportunities for his true genius to show. We all know it’s there. We’re just anxious to see it again.
A film unbecoming Tarantino’s canon.