Bad Times at the El Royale
Agatha Christie meets Quentin Tarantino in Drew Goddard’s violent noir Bad Times at the El Royale. Set in the 1960s, it features a solid cinematography with vibrant images and great costumes, a cool soundtrack (mostly showcasing Cynthia Erivo’s impressive vocals) and contains within it all the ingredients required to make a first-class thriller, although it fails to use these elements to their best effect.
The film begins with three characters arriving at the El Royale hotel looking to rent a room: a priest (Jeff Bridges), a soul singer (Cynthia Erivo) and a salesman (Jon Hamm). After much waiting, a young man (Lewis Pullman), who seems frightened and disturbed, finally appears and introduces himself as the only employee around.
The El Royale is built right on the border between California and Nevada. A red line on the floor splits it in half denoting the different states and styles. In its heyday, the hotel welcomed affluent guests who could drink in California and then gamble in Nevada, but in time it lost all its glitz and turned into a seedy, rundown place.
The intrigue kicks off when another lady (Dakota Johnson) checks in. It transpires that each character has a secret motive for being there, and the movie is split into chapters showing the different perspectives of the guests and how their stories eventually intertwine.
The Hitchcockian atmospheres of the semi-deserted motel are promising but, in a sudden change of mood, the thriller gives way to a bloodbath as a subplot involving a dangerous cult leader (Chris Hemsworth, who appears relatively late in the film) takes over. Unlike masters of the genre, who keep things simple using great precision and sophistication in their narrative, Goddard’s plot becomes overcrowded with flashbacks explaining the characters’ background stories, and it does not weave its many subplots seamlessly.
The 240 minute running time is not fully justified, but the picture is never boring. Undoubtedly absorbing, the plot overlaps its twists and cliffhangers deftly. There is, however, the constant feeling that the story is on the brink of delivering something brilliant, which never materialises.
Bad Times at the El Royale is released nationwide on 12th October 2018.
Watch the trailer for Bad Times at the El Royale here: