Mix Movie Review: 'Bad Times At The El Royale'

★★1/2 out of ★★★★

October 12, 2018

Photo Credit: Kimberley French

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Best known for the 2012 sleeper The Cabin In The Woods, writer/director Drew Goddard follows it up with Bad Times at the El Royale, a film which seems like it could have been dreamt up by Quentin Tarantino, yet at the same time retains Goddard's sense of style. 

Positioned on the border of California and Nevada, the El Royale (which despite mulitple references to it as a hotel, is definitely motel material) has seen better days. In fact, the lone employee, a young desk clerk (Lewis Pullman), seems surprised to find more than one patron checking in.

Arriving at the same time are the El Royale's only inhabitants for the night. There is the priest (Jeff Bridges), a traveling vaccuum salesman (John Hamm), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), and a mysterious "hippie" (Dakota Johnson).

As the film gets underway, it soon becomes clear that no one is really who they appear to be at first glance, and all but one of them are up to some seriously shady dealings at the El Royale. 

Unfortunately though, it takes a while to get things moving, with the pacing of the initial section of the film, as well as the dialogue, incredibly slow.

The story is told in chapters, blurring time lines, to fully explain how each character ended up at the El Royale and what they had planned to accomplish once they got there.

Eventually one of the lead characters is murdered, and another injured, before the story takes a complete left turn, introducing a Charles Manson-like figure played by Chris Hemsworth, who has come to the El Royale to claim what (really who) he believes to be his.

There are plenty of surprises to be had, and plenty of times where you will be tempted to let out a shocked gasp at the onscreen proceedings.

Hamm, Bridges and Johnson are especially good, but film newcomer Erivo, who burst onto the Broadway stage recently starring as Celie in the musical A Color Purple, is a joy to watch. And to hear. She has plenty of opportunities throughout the film to show off her impressive pipes.

Pullman, who happens to be the son of Bill Pullman, is also quite good. 

In the end, Goddard's story takes one satisfying turn after another. It just takes its sweet time getting there. 

The Good: None of the patrons of the El Royale are exactly who they first appear to be, and watching their true motives and intentions become revealed is very entertaining. 

The Bad: At times a pondering pacing hinders the movement of the story, dragging the film to a halting pace.  The two hour plus running time also seems a bit much. 

Final Word: Comparisons to Tarantino are bound to occur, and definitely warranted, but Goddard's film finds it's own style somewhere along the way and ends up feeling more like an ultra-violent Agatha Christie mystery. 

Starring Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth. Directed by Drew Goddard. Running Time: 2 hr 21 minutes. 

Rated R for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity