BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW
Directed by: Drew Goddard
Produced by: Drew Goddard, Jeremy Latcham
Written by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Expectations are a fascinating thing. Based on the prior screenwriting work of Drew Goddard and his amazing debut feature film, the genre-bending horror film, Cabin in the Woods, I was really looking forward to this crime thriller. With a terrific cast of actors in place and an intriguing setting of a hotel split between the United States of Nevada and California there promised to be cinematic fireworks. There were indeed fireworks but, like fireworks, the film paints bright and pretty colours and bangs loudly in the sky yet somehow felt hollow afterwards. This comes from those darned expectations, I guess.
There are seven main characters in the film; all of whom have secrets to keep. They range from: John Hamm’s vacuum-cleaner salesman; Lewis Pullman’s hotel employee; Dakota Johnson’s mysterious femme fatale; Jeff Bridges’ shady priest; plus a couple of other devils who enliven proceedings later in the film. All the characters are seemingly unconnected but soon fate and fortune take hold as Goddard weaves his screenwriting magic. Before you know they are all at each other’s throats jousting verbally and physically; double and triple crossing, resorting often to extreme violence. What Goddard does superbly well is place these various characters in a form of narrative hell or purgatory. He looks into the heart of humanity and finds blood and darkness at every turn.
Bad Times at the El Royale main strengths are the brilliant script, skilled cast and a wondrous production design. Indeed, the rich neon colours and lighting glow amidst with the foreboding darkness surrounding the hotel. In terms of performance, Jeff Bridges is just great; in everything! Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo also excel and breathe emotion into their archetypal characterisations. John Hamm is ever the solid player; but Chris Hemsworth’s grand entrance in the second act, almost steals the show with his messianic “Jim Morrison” grandstanding. All told the ensemble has a scream within the clever pyrotechnics of the screenplay.
Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. Structurally, we cleverly move back in time to fill in back-stories. Events are also from multiple perspectives heightening the twisting nature of the narrative. While mainly style over substance the film still manages to critique the racism of the late 1960s setting; satirises celebrity scandals, and also has a dig at religious cults. So, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists and turns galore, that provides an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.