Our cinema-eye ponders over a Jesus Christ crucifix, himself static against a desperate snowy wilderness, the camera wandering minimally yet lingering fixedly upon his stone stare as a deep, unearthly, score tingles the napes of our necks. Is this really a Quentin Tarantino film, or a David Lean epic, miraculously unearthed and polished to pristine, 70mm glory?
Here, the pop-funk-hip-hop cinema DJ seems to have abandoned his cosy home of scintillating pastiche concoctions and slowly, gracefully glided up the mountain into the arena of brooding, cinematic mastery. This is his Kubrick film.
Tarantino has always put his characters front and centre, so fascinated with the idiosyncratic minutia of their thoughts, philosophies and (oft-suspect) wisdoms, yet always they play out their stories in the context of a glorious genre mish-mash, a thick bubbling soup of thumping euphoria and old worn-out chestnut tropes remoulded and jazzed for our delectation. Murderous thugs groan about everyday hassles, set against an eclectic bubblegum mix-tape. His gruesome, funny characters are present and correct yet he has abandoned his gleeful mish-mashing in favour of a slow, sober stare, allowing them (and us) time, time, time to brood. This has a powerfully unsettling effect, as we find ourselves repulsed yet obsessed with each one of this murderous group, their broken psyches (and later, bodies) laid out all over the snow for us to examine and recoil at. Rarely in cinema are we given this chance to look into the hearts of such cold souls with such a grandly sedate magnifying glass. Morricone's score is glorious yet festering, eking out dread from every gnarled face. Arguably, The Hateful Eight can be considered a horror film. Indeed, during the final bloody climax, we are treated to a playfully sinister violin motif composed (by Morricone) for John Carpenter's classic snowy horror, The Thing (also starring Kurt Russel).
Walton Goggins must be heralded as perhaps the most convincing, disgusting villain to have graced any western of this era. Watching him drooling, snorting, grimacing and chuckling through dirty, mangled teeth had a peculiarly disarming effect, as though one had been transported to the late sixties, perhaps watching an unseen Dollars film. He is not of this time, a surviving relic, conjured up from celluloid dust lying on Sergio Leone's cutting-room floor.
While Tarantino has here abandoned much of his trash-collage modus operandi, he retains an obvious playfulness with genre. More subdued perhaps, yet here is a grandiose 70mm (!) epic confined almost entirely to two sets - a cramped stagecoach and a large, messy "haberdashery". What the hell is going on? This is Quentin up to his old tricks, and while he may not have come to this bizarre juxtaposition of epic and tiny, weird mystery-movie (for structurally, much of The Hateful Eight embodies an Agatha Christie story) by creating something wilfully strange, I bet he was delighted when he realised just where he was going. After all, he is someone who has a track record of deep affinity with cinematic oddities.
The Hateful Eight contains many peculiarities, yet remains a satisfyingly grim, logically stately cinema-play, complete with sizzling dialogue delivered by a coterie of magnificent actors, all doing something entirely different, all portraying beautifully twisted, tortured individuals, hanging on to their grim reality with a steel grip. As we long to empathise with one of these miserable humans, our brains struggle to shuffle and re-shuffle an endless stack of their qualities, none of them really warranting any pity, yet all gleaning a little, here and there. Fascinating, beautiful, crazy, I loved it.