By Bill Arceneaux
“The Bear Jew” Eli Roth has rubbed off on Quentin Tarantino in more ways than one. Don’t get me wrong as The Hateful Eight is, very much, a Tarantino piece of work, filled with enough of his isms to give standard fans reason to fall in line. But, along with these isms, are peculiarities that gave me a second and third take. Takes that, in the end, make me think that Tarantino has made an Eli Roth flick.
This year has seen two Roth directed movies, both great in their own ways—The Green Inferno and Knock Knock. Roth’s sense of humor is pretty blunt, bordering on obnoxious at times, all at the service of getting the audience in the sadistic mood of watching and enjoying lead characters in pain. Beneath the pain can be a message or comment on something cultural or personal even, but that shouldn’t make one ignore the populist vulgarity employed. It’s an acceptable ugliness for a more PC crowd. Tasteful taboo?
The Hateful (or H8ful) Eight is an exercise at and expression of the lengths others will go just to push your buttons. As of this writing, it’s been a few days since my 70MM Roadshow screening of this movie (projected by the great Travis Bird of local group Shotgun Cinema), so, I’ve had time to think on some of its finer themes. A sequence early on, which showcases a Jesus on the cross statue covered in heavy snow, left me both captivated and confused. It was beautifully rendered, held on for a long time, with Ennio Morricone music behind it. The spellbinding and creepy imagery is meant to put you in a tense mood, suggesting thrills and tragic circumstances to come. However, there’s another moment near the end that harkens back, puzzling me as to the depth of thought being used.
No, I don’t think The Hateful Eight is making commentary on Christianity or the like, and no, I don’t think these images are used in superficial Zack “because it looked cool” Snyder ways. Instead, I’m convinced Tarantino is playing with controversy in the same way a child builds things with Legos. The main goal is to tell a compelling story, but the details in between start and finish, ugly as they may be, unfurl strong feelings. This act may not be appreciated positively, as it might be seen as quite exploitative. Tarantino and Roth, of course, deal in the exploitative. Heck, most filmmakers deal in the exploitative.
Almost everything in and about The Hateful Eight is offensive, from the use of the N-word to the grain of actual film. And yet, it’s all so gorgeous and glorious. The blending and bleeding of bright colors, the intensity of conversation and the design and execution (literally at times) of scenes make this yet another event movie. An event movie that is both thoughtful and blunt in details and distaste/discomfort. The Hateful Eight is victoriously vainglorious at the vulgarity envisioned, and it kinda has every right to be.
When characters aren’t insulting others, when racial epithets aren’t being used, and when the audience isn’t laughing at a woman getting beaten on, we’re given some time think on our response. My audience laughed, sometimes awkwardly, but laughed still. Cathartic to watch such passion being spewed on screen? The movie does take place during the post Civil War days. Much division back then. Much division now, even. Maybe behind each bullet shot and gore sprayed is the potential of insight into the tension of today. The modern vulgarity under and on the surface.
Yep, this IS an Eli Roth movie by way of Quentin Tarantino.
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