Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Drew Goddard
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson
Synopsis: Circa 1968, several strangers, most with a secret to bury, meet by chance at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one night, everyone will show their true colors – before everything goes to hell.
It has been 6 years since Drew Goddard’s directorial debut The Cabin In The Woods swept horror fans off their feet but since then we haven’t really heard much from him. His presence on Daredevil and other recent shows as a producer has definitely been felt but directing-wise he has been a ghost. Enter Bad Times At the El Royale, Goddard’s latest film and a stab at neo-noir and mystery. First thing, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet stop what you’re doing and give it watch. It’s brilliant editing and does a great job of setting expectations for the film and the fun ride viewers have to come. The one time I caught the trailer was all it took. I fully bought in and had no intention of missing this one at theaters. If it’s not obvious yet I loved the film, it has almost everything I enjoy about cinema and was just a pleasure to watch.
Right after I walked out of the theater for Bad Times at the El Royale I wrote four words down to help me remember what I enjoyed from the film: Music, Pacing, Style, and Performances. All of the above are Fantastic! The entire film is one delicious aural and visual feast filled with drama, mystery and head-spinning twists. It centers around an old style hotel called…you guessed it…The El Royale, situated right on the border of Nevada and California, and its peculiar and mysterious guests that all had the unfortunate luck of coming together on one ill-fated night. From the opening scene that is both puzzling and cinematically brilliant to the sometimes head-scratching and intense chaos that ensues, the film is a ride you won’t want to miss out on. It’s quick on its feet but will slow the pace right when it needs to allow the audience time to get to know the players. Stylistically it is a call back to the pulpy films we all enjoyed from the 90’s. 2 Days in the Valley, L.A Confidential, and of course, Pulp Fiction are a few that come to mind. If you enjoyed these you will definitely enjoy Bad Times at the El Royale.
When talking about the film one thing I have to mention is the music. Every single tune is placed with precision and care for each scene. And don’t expect anything modern, the whole soundtrack is one big love letter to Motown and classic old school Rhythm and Blues. When you’re not holding your breath to catch each moment on-screen, you’re tapping your feet and wiggling in your seat to the perfectly placed harmonies. Even if you don’t find the film’s story compelling you are going to have a hard time not wanting to sing along as the talented Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) belts out each beautiful note. And the emotion that the music brings to certain scenes is so soul-warming, I found myself (and I imagine everyone else in the theater) just paralyzed with a strange mix of sadness, awe, and joy. Honestly, it’s not something easy to convey with words. These scenes almost brought me to tears, they were beautiful and emotional and something we just don’t see often enough on film.
There is so much you can say about the casting for Bad Times at the El Royale and after you’ll still feel like you didn’t say enough. Every single actor gave an amazing performance, in some cases one of the best I’ve seen from them. Jeff Bridges as Father Daniel Flynn was outstanding and will go down as one of my favorites from him (His Rooster Cogburn and The Dude top that list). And we all need to start talking about Cynthia Erivo. Somehow with talents like Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, and Chris Hemsworth, surrounding her she managed to steal the spotlight and she handled it with proficiency and grace. Every scene with her is just brimming with emotion and her voice will leave you spellbound. Hamm is always a delight and his witty Laramie Seymour Sullivan brings some great laughs. Another new face for me was Lewis Pullman, son of Bill Pullman, who plays Miles Miller a character that at first will seem forgettable but by the film’s end had the audience from my theater whooping and clapping. Again just so many great performances.
I’ve read a few other reviews of Bad Times at the El Royale and many seem to feel the film fell short a bit. Some have compared it to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in that it tries too hard but never reaches the same platform the modern classic sits on but personally I think it can hold its own against other films that fit this genre. I agree that it does drag on a bit at 150 minutes and there are scenes that could be cut but at the end of the day, I really enjoyed this crazy twisty tale. From start to finish it kept my attention and I never felt bored with it and more importantly, the film has something to say. Every character in the film is flawed in some way but I found myself pulling for them and finding the humanity in their desperation and vulnerability. Each is fighting in some way for love or redemption and it’s easy to connect that with our own internal struggle. I would have loved more background for some characters but overall each is fairly well fleshed out. And I can’t say it enough, the performances were fantastic especially from Bridges and newcomer Erivo, who is an absolute star in the making, and it’s a film that has great re-watch potential. For whatever reason, there hasn’t been much buzz about Bad Times at the El Royale but trust me this is one of those films you will regret not catching at the theater.
Also, don’t blink or you might miss a Nick Offerman sighting, always a pleasure to see him on-screen.
Overall Grade: B+