Tuesday 16 October 2018

Film Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

Seven strangers, one crummy hotel; Bad Times at the El Royale sees writer/director Drew Goddard serve up a stylish throwback to grimy 90s noir. 

Sitting on the border of California and Nevada, the El Royale is a hotel that has seen better days. Lacking some of the polish that made it a popular stopover in its heyday, the hotel is now slowly falling into disrepair and despair – that is until one fateful night where seven total strangers cross paths and lock horns.

First to arrive at the El Royale is vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), followed by soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), man of the cloth Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and secretive siren Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) and her sister Ruth (Cailee Spaeny). Each harbours a secret, and all will be exposed before the night is out if the final stranger – Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) – has his way.

It might be an easy or obvious comparison, but with its non-linear narrative, pumping period soundtrack, multiple viewpoints and long soliloquies, Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a gleeful, stylish homage to Quentin Tarantino in all the right ways. It's The Hateful Eight mixed with dashes of ClueCabin in the Woods and the first season on Lost (minus the polar bears).

At two hours and 20 minutes, Bad Times at the El Royale takes its time to meander through lengthy flashbacks, exploring how everything stitches together. It's an intriguing approach that at best gives the characters more depth and room to breathe, and at worst puts the kybosh on any momentum the film may have as it inches towards the final act. As for me, I enjoyed the pacing; it's long but I loved the focus on dialogue and character.

With a cast as stacked as this, it shouldn't come as a surprise that some struggle to shine. But rather than highlighting who doesn't excel, let's talk about who does – namely Lewis Pullman as lonely hotel bellboy Miles Miller, whose performance is punctuated by moments of heartbreak, and Chris Hemsworth, who oozes a sinister charisma and arrives as a fully-formed character from the get-go. Bridges and Erivo are standouts also, with the latter getting to flex her vocal prowess on a number of occasions.

If there's one thing this film does ace, it's shaping a sense of place – not just through the production design and soundtrack, but also through the way the camera moves through the corners and geography of the hotel. Similarly, Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is simply gorgeous, with the crackling neon signs and grimy crevices oozing from the screen.

The Verdict: 8/10

Come for shirtless Hemsworth, stay for the soundtrack and the dialogue. While Bad Times at the El Royale is lacking that last little ounce of something to make it truly special, I had a blast exploring every nook and cranny of this sinister, soulful and strangely perverted neo-noir stopover. Rather than decrying the length or the strange stuff, enjoy something that challenges the idea that they don't make them like they used to.

Bad Times at the El Royale is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I liked this, but I think it would've made a better mini series. There was so much information here.



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