Bad Times at the El Royale Review: Fun Time Runs Long Time
R: Strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity
20th Century Fox, TSG Entertainment
2 Hrs and 21 Minutes
Writer/Dir: Drew Goddard
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Chris Hemsworth, Xavier Dolan, Shea Whigham, Mark O’Brien, Jim O’Heir
From the showrunner of the first and only decent season of “Daredevil”, the screenwriter of “The Martian”, and director of “Cabin in the Woods” comes Drew Goddard’s second directorial feature, “Bad Times at the El Royale”. It’s a good time that lasts a long time, especially since my screening didn’t start on time. Seriously. The film was supposed to start at 7pm and wasn’t completely validated until about 8pm. And this was a public screening that people paid for. I couldn’t complain because this was an AMC A-list feature I purchased for the week and felt good about it.
Set in 1969, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers who find themselves at the El Royale, a novelty hotel at the border of California and Nevada. But as the strangers — including a priest (Bridges), a vacuum cleaner salesman (Hamm), a Southern gangster (Johnson), and a former singer (Erivo) — settle into their rooms, they discover that something strange is afoot inside and outside the hotel.
Out of everything the film has to offer, what stood out to me the most is the amazing production design. While terrible things do happen here, I love the look of the El Royale. The clothing is fancy and each interior corridor looks distinctively different from the next. It’s one of the major enticing aspects of the film.
The level of mystery to this hotel as a whole is the most engaging thing about this story. There’s this creatively constructed sequence I’ve never seen before where you get one continuous shot of Hamm observing his neighbors. Goddard’s visual style keeps the film enticing and keeps you gripped to your seat. The dark lighting adds to the ominous atmosphere as well.
Cynthia Erivo’s voice.
Oof. Before transitioning to film, I used to just hear her music, but now we’ve hit that moment where Cynthia is in, not one but, two movies. Here she gives an emotional and characteristic performance and is the relatable, sane central character. It is a great onscreen debut before we see her in “Widows” where she runs faster than Forrest Gump, but we’ll get to that later. She is great in this film and one of the contributing factors to this is her chemistry with Jeff Bridges as a priest (or not-so-credible priest).
Jeff Bridges has been so charming in a number of recent roles and this is another addition to that list. He may not be an actual priest or a good guy, but there is an ample amount of authentic decency to his character that makes you root for him. If there’s anyone you want to see out of this situation alive it’s him.
It’s also nice to see Dakota Johnson soar after the tragedy that was the Fifty Shades saga. In this role she is… threatening? Yeah, shocking. But she has exhibited a decent array of range with every non-Fifty Shades role she’s taken. Not gonna lie... she was terrifying in this film. That is, until Chris Hemsworth shows up and just like the almighty Thor in “Infinity War” he steals the show. When his character is introduced all kinds of hell breaks loose and, while his character is a bit on the supernatural side, it works because of the era the film takes place in.
I dig the story structure of the film where each room is designated to correspond with each character’s backstory and how they arrived to the hotel, but at a certain point the film goes from in and out of establishing the characters to playing around with a sequential event through many people’s perspectives. While they may seem interesting (and they are!), they’re also rather stupid. Some characters make really poor decisions and at times you’re there going:
There is barely any humor thrown into the narrative and you’re not laughing because there is a dark tone, but then the climax occurs where the tone gets thrown off balance. At first it’s dark and ominous but some of the characters, particularly Hemsworth, liven it up.
When Hemsworth arrives he kicks down the door like:
It’s as if he’s just gotten off the set of a completely different movie (more specifically an Edgar Wright film). Seriously, he’s sort of like an Edgar Wright antagonist because his character is pretty much the Gideon Graves of the ‘60s. He’s evil and all, but he’s mostly a huge asshole who cracks a lot of jokes. You start chuckling at what he says and his delivery. While the tension builds, he still makes you laugh. He literally uses the “are you mine” line towards someone and it is eerie.
Like another release this week, “First Man”, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is 2 hrs and 21 minutes long.
I give it this: it is paced well. It moves swiftly for the most part, but it starts to run out of steam by the third act as the ultimate reveal of the mystery wasn’t much of a mystery to begin with. While it is still fun, the finale drags so you start to think, “Wow, this bad time is lasting a very long time and it’s about time for me to go home”.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a fun time at the movies, for its visual splendor and performances keep you engaged even though it’s overstuffed by the time the climax occurs.
Rating: 3.5/5 | 74%
Super Scene: Coming down the corridor.