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Bad Times at the El Royale – Movie Review

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Bad Times at the El Royale – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Six years ago, Drew Goddard made his directing debut with The Cabin in the Woods, which delightfully flipped the horror genre on its head. His sharp and original storytelling skills nicely continue here with Bad Times at the El Royale. This movie is a refreshing and unpredictable piece of work that can’t be classified as a specific genre. However, Goddard also allows his talented cast to have fun with the material handed to them. Part of the enjoyment is in piecing the various story threads together. Even if the movie can’t quite keep the energy alive for its entire two hour and twenty minute runtime, the journey taken to that conclusion is nonetheless a wild ride.

Goddard appears to be a filmmaker with a real love for his characters. When each of the central protagonists walks onto the scene one by one, their personalities are fully formed. When secrets are revealed, they don’t feel unearned or made up on the spot. Part of what makes the first two acts great is how Goddard divides the characters into their own chapters. Jumping from one character’s point-of-view to the next, these are like their own little short films. It also helps with the pacing as Goddard spends just enough time going into their back stories and what activities are occurring in each hotel room.

Goddard’s dialogue is quick witted and funny, the sort actors revel in speaking. Jon Hamm immediately bursts into the scene with gusto and Jeff Bridges also brings his usual charm to the role of a priest with a secret. The stand-out in the cast ends up being Cynthia Erivo. The stage actress holds her own against the veteran screen thespians and creates a sympathetic portrait of a singer dealing with a racially intolerant time period. The titular El Royale hotel is used to its fullest advantage with Goddard understanding the importance of both the lobby and individual suites. Production designer Martin Whist has included a lot of clever details into the location and director of photography Seamus McGarvey frames the shots beautifully. Even the placements of the actors within the camera says a lot about the characters.

While Bad Times at the El Royale is entertaining and energetic through its first two thirds, the film sort of stops when Chris Hemsworth enters the scene. While Hemsworth continues to display his expected charisma in the role of a demented cult leader, the movie mostly descends into monologuing. The story screeches to a halt and one begins to miss the earlier structure. The story decisions taken are understandable and these sequences are certainly well written, but the pacing is what is most affected. Drew Goddard is throwing a lot of ideas into the pot and it’s nonetheless easy to admire his chutzpah.

While some may make the obvious comparison to Quentin Tarantino’s output with its colourful dialogue and use of location, Bad Times at the El Royale is still an original work that seeks to take the audience on a ride. It’s a lot of fun seeing the various paths taken by Goddard as we make our way through this hotel and the people who are stopping by. The movie even has fun with its concept of a hotel resting on top of two separate American states. The actors are definitely in on the joke, but they still give the characters the proper depth and occasionally sympathy.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison