Bad Times at the El Royale is a 2018 thriller motion-picture written, produced and directed by Drew Goddard. Starring an ensemble cast consisting of Jeff Bridges, John Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth, the movie is set in the early 1970’s and follows a group of seven secretive strangers who lock horns in one night at a unique hotel called El Royale.
Acting & Character performances.
If the star-studded cast is anything to go by, I am not surprised by how remarkable the acting performances were. Just like the information on my introduction suggests, a majority of the characters have deep dark secrets which they are not intent on letting others know of and the latter is essentially what inspires their motivations throughout the film.
For starters, Jeff Bridges was exceptional as Father Daniel Flynn; this amnesiac servant of Christianity who people, for a majority of the movie, look at as a holy and pristine man but little do they know what his real intentions are in that hotel. Little do they know how he plans on using his charm and overall demeanour to further his agenda on there. Of all the character arcs, Flynn’s had the most relevance and depth considering where we find him in the beginning of the movie and where find him in the end. There’s a way Bridges brought out that ‘there’s more than what meets the eye’ aspect of his character and I enjoyed it all the way.
John Hamm is another actor who sold his character Seymour Sullivan or if you’d rather Dwight Broadbeck equally as good. I wouldn’t go as far as telling you why he has two names because it’s somewhat spoilery nonetheless you being the seasoned movie lover that I know you are, I think you must have figured it out already. Despite the fact that Seymour doesn’t have much of a cinematic journey in this mainly because of the way the way he was written, I was drawn to the witty and inquisitive side of the character which John Hamm portrayed to perfection.
I didn’t know what to expect with Cynthia Erivo in her role primarily because she is, for a lack of a better word, an odd one out in the casting but I was blown away by her as Darlene Sweet. Her character name, by the way, is quite befitting when you take into account how soothing her vocal talents are in this. Darlene’s singing prowess, however, isn’t paying dividends for her and the reason behind that is addressed in a clear and raw manner through a certain flashback scene where we see her character being treated unfairly by someone who is ideally supposed to have her back. As you would expect, there’s a lot of distrust that she took out of that experience; this translates very well in a simply spectacular sequence in the 1st Act where she attacks one of hotel guests who she had previously bonded with over a meal but who was trying to drug her. Much like Flynn, Erivo’s character arc was convincing and it had a satisfactory ending as well.
Dakota Johnson is also in this movie as Emily Summerspring; a character I didn’t really connect with for a huge portion of the film and I don’t think there were enough reasons for me to. Yes, Emily’s motivations might have been clear but in the grand scheme of things, she didn’t have enough of a clear backstory. A backstory to back up not necessarily why she is who she is but rather how she became who she is because there are some things Emily unexplainably does both advertently and inadvertently and as a viewer I needed to be filled in on them.
I don’t have much to say about Chris Hemsworth in this film other than the fact that any fan of his will probably be disappointed in the amount of screen-time he gets in this. Notwithstanding, he does have a role to play in the narrative as this psychopathic cult leader and it’s a role that twist the plot considerably.
The Plot, Merits and Demerits.
Based on my experience with this Drew Goddard flick, I can say that perhaps I should start opening up more to the neo-noir film genre considering I have not always been a fan of it and I have not watched a lot of flicks that have adopted its style. Some or most probably all of you might think this is quite inexcusable for a film critic like myself and funnily enough I do too.
That said, I think the fact that I loved and connected with a fair few movies of the genre for example ‘Nightcrawler’ starring Jake Gyllenhaal and a Nolan film that needs no introduction in ‘The Dark Knight’ should be my ‘get out of jail’ card, right? Anyway, the point I am trying to drive in all this is that I appreciated Bad Times at the El Royale; reason being that it understands the kind of emotion that it is supremely supposed to elicit from the viewers and it interweaves that aspect with a great suspenseful plot.
Speaking of the angel, I can’t think of enough words to describe how dominant and impactful the suspense was; just when you think you know how something is going to go down, something totally different happens every single time. This aspect is most prevalent in the 3rd Act when there is this showdown at the El Royale hotel involving all of the leading characters. Sometimes I tend to think that I have thrillers all figured out but this particular one had me on the ropes immobile.
The main conflict of this movie basically navigates around the fact that the El Royale Hotel has a very dark history which has had a knack of repeating itself time and time again; it’s a dark history that is bound to befall on its current inhabitants. We get to see this conflict manifest through the problems that the individual characters face and its magnificent to watch; a bit heart-breaking at times but generally magnificent.
*Bearing in mind that this is a period piece, all eyes will obviously be on the production design and it’s going to be judged on whether it was convincing. This film gets a straight A on this because the environment i.e. the classic record players, the classic music, the classic cars and last but not least the period clothing had a strong 70’s feel to it and I was convinced.
*I liked how the film would revisit stuff that I had already seen but give it a different angle before, then and after. * The movie not being too quick to show everyone’s backstory and opting to show them at different stages of the runtime was something I found quite clever. *The cinematography and sound is remarkable; these two elements are, in my opinion best used in two scenes to present an air of the unexpected i.e. when the secrets of the hotel’s guests are being uncovered one by one by a certain character as well as in the opening sequence. Every camera technique and every sound stayed true to the thriller aspect of the movie’s genre.
However, this movie has faults as well. *The pacing of events is a bit slow in some stages; certain scenes drag too long. *The way certain characters were written, as I mentioned wasn’t appealing, at least to me. *Finally the ending was so ‘meeh’; considering how investing the plot was in relation to tone and suspense, the way everything wraps up is just too… unworthy! Yes, there are some characters whose arcs end well but the story itself finishes quite vaguely. I think that’s the best description I can give.
Though Bad Times at the El Royale is a low budget motion-picture with only a 32 million dollar investment, the director Drew Goddard was clearly intent on making a film that an ordinary audience member will walk out of feeling relatively satisfied. It’s not perfect as I have clearly emphasized but please do watch it in case you haven’t; whether it’s going to be now or when it’s on DVD. Either will do.