Warning: Spoilers for The Hateful Eight ahead.
This past weekend I went on a bit of a movie-watching binge. Most of the films weren’t very notable, but one that I really had been looking forward to was Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Tarantino, as I think is pretty common, divides me quite a bit. Some of his movies I truly love as classics, and others leave me wanting to go take a shower. But they are always interesting, and I can appreciate that.
As The Hateful Eight started, I was thrilled. The movie was slow, and although I wasn’t a huge fan of all the exposition, it was interesting, and I had the feeling that it would all lead to a big payoff somewhere down the line.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this movie over the weekend, because I felt like it had all the ingredients necessary to be great, but I finished thoroughly uninterested. The reason, I think, is stakes.
Any moviewatcher or reader or writer knows that for a story to hold our interest, the stakes need to hold our interest. In a romantic comedy, the stakes are often love. Superhero movies, the fate of the world. Ultimately, the stakes have to match the story and the genre. It would be weird to watch the Avengers assemble to save a cat in a tree, and life-or-death stakes generally don’t exist in romantic comedies (at least to my knowledge).
The Hateful Eight is a movie about life and death stakes, but here’s the problem: I, at least, couldn’t care less about any of the characters. At first, they all seemed complex, but when you peeled them a little deeper, all of them were simply horrible people. No one cares when the supervillian in a movie dies – that’s what they are supposed to do. Likewise, in The Hateful Eight, everybody deserves to die, and when the ultraviolence inevitably unleashes itself, there’s no stakes.
I would add that life-or-death isn’t always the best stakes, nor is the fate of the city/world/universe. Sometimes the stakes could be truth vs lies (heart of darkness), or mercy vs revenge (count of monte Cristo). Stakes depend on your characters, and I would argue that in The Hateful Eight, Tarantino forgot this important fact.