As if we needed any more confirmation, director Quentin Tarantino has proven again that he is a singular talent. There’s a real irony in what makes his films unique, because his art depends so heavily on referencing other movies. The man is like a cinematic blender; he fills himself with his favorite genres, and he violently liquefies them all into a wholly new product. The product this time is The Hateful Eight, a western that mines such distinct storytelling approaches as both an Agatha Christie drawing room murder mystery and John Carpenter’s The Thing, with more gallons of blood than Brian de Palma’s Carrie.
As big and loud and nauseating and hilarious as the movie is, it’s essentially a small chamber piece with a handful of characters talking to – and sometimes merely at – each other in a room for almost three hours. It could easily (and fascinatingly) be staged as a play. In fact, Tarantino first produced it as a staged reading with cast members like Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern already on board. It’s Glengarry Glen Ross by way of a grindhouse double feature. This eighth film by Tarantino is a blood soaked yarn that is by turns thrilling, disturbing, and troubling, but it further cements the director as a visual stylist and screenwriter who is unrivaled at his craft. The director’s attention to detail, and his loving devotion to the films of the past, is evident from frame one of The Hateful Eight, with an opening shot – filmed in beautiful 70mm Panavision – that is an incredibly slow pan of a gorgeous snow swept landscape.
Westerns are getting the treatment in this movie that he gave to exploitation movies in Grindhouse. If his last film, 2012’s Django Unchained, was an homage to the askew sensibilities of the Spaghetti Western, The Hateful Eight is honoring the classical Hollywood version of the same genre. This is The Alamo if it had been co-directed by Sam Peckinpah and Lucio Fulci. The “roadshow” cut of the film, which is the version I was able to see, even begins with a musical overture in the style of that Western classic. Supplying the overture and the rest of the score is legendary composer Ennio Morricone, whose music is deeply haunting and rich with atmosphere. The man who scored classics like Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West a half-century ago has only gotten better, if that’s even possible. Morricone didn’t have time to provide an entire score, so he gave Tarantino permission to license unused tracks that he previously wrote for John Carpenter’s aforementioned The Thing.