Say this much for writer/director/foot fetishist/N-word-addict Quentin Tarantino when he finally made his first bad movie: he made one of the worst films ever. The Hateful Eight is a disgusting, stupid, overlong bore. It would have sucked at half its length, but at least you could have done something more pleasurable and less soul-crushing with the rest of your day, like gargled broken glass or listened to the dying breaths of a beloved family pet. Because the man has made so many masterpieces, there have been delirious attempts to mine this vomitory of vile drivel for some symbolic, sophisticated commentary on race relations and misogyny in modern America. That is the equivalent of thoughtful art critics trying to make-believe a Jackson Pollock painting out of someone’s freshly soiled bedsheets.
The plot is gossamer… because why would you want a three-hour movie to have a story? Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) catches a ride during a blizzard with bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who is escorting the murderess Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the authorities. Along the way, they pick up Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), still a proud Confederate supporter despite the South having recently lost the Civil War. The quartet take shelter at an isolated outpost with Bob (Demian Bichir), a handyman; Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), an actual hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowpoke; and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a rebel commander known for slaughtering slaves.
The title of the film tells you these people are “hateful.” They are worse than that. They are irredeemable, gross, awful pieces of shit who deserve all the unspeakable things that happen to them, even if we’ve done nothing to warrant being forced to watch said things happen. It’s mind-boggling how Tarantino, a master of thrills in epic scenes like the opening of Inglourious Basterds, has forgotten it is impossible to generate even the smallest degree of tension if you literally don’t care what happens to anyone on screen. That was the singular thought I had as characters barfed blood and Tarantino’s trademark dialogue hour after hour: “I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.”
In every single Tarantino movie, there’s at least one cringeworthy scene in which the director forgets himself, misreads tone and succumbs to some disturbing, sick fetishism. This is three hours of only that, punctuated with ugly bits of silly gore and goofy caricatures. But what absolutely must be addressed is the unspeakable, unsophisticated, amateurish racism. There is no meaning or significance to watching Confederate sympathizers call a black man the N-word in the context provided. It holds no current social relevance and feels like a naked excuse for Tarantino to be able to write his favorite word as many times as he’d like. Worse yet, any implied modern meaning associated with the actions of Major Warren are unspeakably wretched, as though Tarantino is condemning the enslaved in equal proportion to their masters.
The Hateful Eight is worthless, mean-spirited, racial and sexist fetishism doused in schlocky fake blood, and goddammit an artist as skilled as Tarantino should know it. One movie can’t possibly retroactively erode a director’s filmography, but if one could do so, this would be it.
This review first appeared in The Reader in Omaha, Nebraska.