The Hateful Eight is, first and foremost, a Tarantino film. There's his name, splashed in large letters across the poster. There's good ol' Sam Jackson, once again in the prime role. There's the incredibly long shots, atmospheric music, weirdly typeset credit sequences, chapter divisions and, of course, the standard bucket-loads of suspense and gore. Yep, a Tarantino film alright.
Of course, as with just about every Tarantino film, the end result is, largely, exemplary. The cinematography is stunning, the use of sound and colour exceptional, the dialogue superb. Every single character is perfectly cast (yes, even Channing Tatum) and just as developed and layered as the plot requires.
The first two acts, however, are something slightly more noteworthy. I'd argue that the first half of the film, including the very start of Chapter 3, may well be the most exciting and classically Tarantino piece of cinema that Tarantino has ever produced. Sure, his other films may be more exciting experiences overall and, within them, likely contain individual sequences that put the whole first half of The Hateful Eight to shame, but nevertheless there is something wonderfully Tarantino about the slow build of suspense that occurs over the first hour or so.
For me, what Tarantino does better than any other director, period, is suspense. Not suspense like you get in a horror movie, waiting to be grossed out or scared, but genuine, practically tangible mystery. The kind of suspense that hooks you and just keeps building until you can barely contain yourself, yet forces you to remain utterly riveted to the screen. Every one of his movies contains this ingredient, but here it is given centre stage. Here it is thrust into the spotlight. Not since Reservoir Dogs has Tarantino allowed himself to play with pure, unadulterated suspense for this much time and the result is incredible. Every second gets drawn out yet, with the exception of the opening shot, the actual framing of the story is fairly fast-paced. Suspense is not achieved by long pans or vast silences; the characters are constantly talking and changing locale. Nor does it rely on behavioural tricks or even, for the most part, sound. There aren't any Psycho style staccato notes or Jaws like consuming bass lines; no zoom-ins on character's eyes or clenching fists, nor offset body language. It's believable, utterly, with no gimmicks or clear manipulation yet it gets to you, draws you in and leaves you trapped. It's masterful.
So it's a great shame when, just around the 50% mark or so, it all comes shattering down. Chapter 3 starts brilliantly, setting up severe tension over what Domergue knows and then instantly revealing the secret, which somehow results in creating even more suspense – it's like a suspense version of Russian nesting dolls and it is amazing! But then, only moments later, the whole sequence is broken by that other Tarantino hallmark: hyper-violence. Poor Ruth and O.B. do not go quietly into the night, instead literally expelling their insides all over the surrounding area as they are poisoned. Suddenly, blood and gore become the focus; suspense is replaced by morbid fascination and the whole, wonderful slow-build abruptly ends.
To be 100% clear, The Hateful Eight is a brilliant film, but I wish it had let the suspense continue to play out. Both Warren and Mannix clearly had more secrets to be uncovered and, whilst unexpected, the revelation that all of the other patrons were working together actually dulled their collective subplots significantly. Had the guessing games continued, with the characters slowly picked off one-by-one, this would have felt like a love letter to the art of suspense. By suddenly pivoting away, the end result was entertaining and a great watch yet, ultimately, not particularly notable. It gives us a lacklustre fourth chapter that helps fill in the blanks but only, cinematically, justifies its existence through the contrasting setup of Minnie's, before leading into a finale that can't quite get its feet back on the ground.
The Hateful Eight could have been Tarantino's personal masterpiece, but in some ways it ironically falls foul of being too much a Tarantino film. The twists and characters are as fantastic as ever, but the ending is lacking in any sort of nuance. A lot of fun, but doesn't manage to stand proud with the likes of Django: Unchained, Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Bastards.