The Hateful 8 contains one of my favourite cheap tricks in storytelling – spoilers incoming. Early in the movie, Major Warren explains both the nickname and the morality of John Ruth with the line “When John Ruth the Hangman catches you, you don’t die by no bullet in the back. When the Hangman catches you, you hang.” At the climax, once Chris Mannix declares that he’s definitively siding with Warren over Daisy Domergue, Warren convinces Mannix not to just murder her with one of the few digressions in the film that I can wholly justify; he contemplates how John Ruth chose not to kill Daisy the entire trip up no matter how inconvenient that was, climaxing with repetition of the aforementioned line. The confusion of not knowing exactly where he’s going with this is more than paid off by the absolute hootin’ and hollerin’ joy of learning that some glorious ownage is a-comin’. In a very inefficient script, the line successfully conveys “We are going to honour John Ruth by following his sense of honour in killing you, just to really amplify the ownage we’re about to commit on you.” Sam Jackson backs it up with his typical killer sense of understanding his character’s motivation with every line; he spoke of John Ruth and his own impending death wistfully, but he says the line with refined savagery. It practically got me out of my seat cheering in the theatre.
One of my favourite things about fiction – and one of my favourite critical cliches – is that it trains you how to watch it, and I always get a kick out of these big unsubtle moments that rely on us knowing the characters and the things they’ve done so intimately. I don’t even remember the exact context, but there’s a moment late in Seinfeld where Jerry makes some offhand observation about a completely absurd hypothetical response one could make, and George turns around and looks at him, and the audience cackles because we all know that he is about to do exactly that. There’s a similar famous moment in Always Sunny where Frank remarks that you have to be a real piece of shit to get into politics; cut to Charlie, Dennis, and Mac silently processing that, then cut to the title card “The Gang Runs For Office”. It seems all the best moments of “you and I both know what’s about to fucking happen” are either ownage or comedy. What is your favourite?