Bad Times at the El Royale – Movie Review – “This is a bad place…”

“Bad Times at the El Royale starts off very well… but unfortunately ends on a lacklustre note…”

Bad Times at the El Royale's final act turns into carnage...

Cynthia Erivo is wonderful to watch in her film debut. Source: Goddard Textiles

Backstory!

The Drew Goddard flick (who penned 2012’s ‘Cabin in the Woods’ with The Avengers’ Josh Whedon) starts off this film in a similar fashion to his Cabin in the Woods monster flick; there’s a lot of intrigue, a lot of mystery – although we think this can’t possibly exhibit a hairy werewolf bursting out of a hotel closet any time soon.

Good Points...

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ starts off very well, slowly introducing to us the “seven strangers”… who all don’t know each other but all share a mysterious background, in that regards. Nobody is who they say they are, and although this didn’t hit in the theatre at once there are obvious call-backs to Quentin Tarintino’s recent feature ‘The Hateful Eight’.

Goddard does well here, though – to set the scene – and slowly introduce and build up character development for each party. If the film is an obvious call-back to anything, it would be Tarintino’s most prolific film to date, ‘Pulp Fiction’. The film non-chronologically gives us backstory before their stay at the El Royale – via flashback sequences.

The cast is made up of: Jeff Bridges as Dock O’Kelly, Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet (in her film debut), Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring, Jon Hamm as Dwight Broadbeck, Cailee Spaeny as Rose Summerspring, Lewis Pullman as Miles Miller (acting as the hotel’s clerk and only employee – very mysterious) and Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee. There’s also a small part filled in here by Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman.

As this is Goddard’s second feature at the helm as director, I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. The director’s last (and first) feature, The Cabin in the Woods, was a surprising success that won over genre fans and the critics. The writer/director wins the crowd over here, in El Royale’s first half with examples of impressive long-takes, a tracking shot (depending on whether you can handle long tracking shots) which explores the hotel’s mysterious segway into an off-limits long corridor. There are two way mirrors here letting us know what each character from before are up to, as well as a camera facing another two-way mirror. Hotel clerk Miles remarks, “This is a bad place…”

There is another golden scene involving Jeff Bridges and actress Cynthia Erivo eating in the diner section of the seen-its-day hotel. Both character’s backstories and conversation completely immerses you into the scene, and when things go twisty turny, as a film of this nature must, it compelled the woman in the cinema sitting to the left of me to audibly jump out her seat… I’ll admit that I was shocked to the point off abrupt motion as well.

Source: Goddard Textiles

Some of the main cast of El Royale (L:R) Jon Hamm (as Dwight Broadbeck), Lewis Pullman (as Miles Miller) and Cynthia Erivo (as Darlene Sweet - in her film debut).

Bad Points...

Between scenes like this and others, as well as countless scenes allowing actress Cynthia Erivo to show off her broadway singing vocal range, are scenes that let the film down with been-there-seen-it obvious showdowns, and scenes that want to make you jump as the film did with the scene involving Jeff Bridges and newcomer Cynthia Erivo; the film unfortunately ends on a lacklustre note.

There are several narrative points that were nicely intriguing and compelling at first glance, but some of these go nowhere or are clunky once the carnage picks up at the end. Don’t read on if you don’t want spoilers

— Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spaeny’s characters’ flashback sequences, that seemed to indicate some form of early childhood abuse, never finds absolution and eventually goes nowhere. There is a narrative point involving the hotel clerk that finds him saying that he has killed ‘123’ people. The film then goes on to reveal that he is a vietnam war survivor and seems to suffer from some form of PTSD, which explains why we see him dosing himself with heroin earlier in the film. However in the very next shot he picks up a rifle (with his foot – never an easy task) and ensues in killing what’s left of the cast with a killer aim and superior firearm skills. Yes, there were flashback scenes explaining that he has these talents, however if I was suffering from PTSD I probably wouldn’t be able to so rapidly absolve these issues and fire at will at once if I previously needed drugs just to get over the very thought of firearm. The ‘I’ve killed 123 people’ line and flashback sequences taking place during the war detract massively from the film’s climax, as at first watch you’d think the ‘I’ve killed 123 people line’ might factor into the hotel’s intrigue and mystery; although Lewis Pullman (son of famous actor Bill Pullman) is another of the film’s highlights, aside this slight narrative blunder.

In Conclusion...

The film unfortunately ends on a lacklustre note, with some of the narrative stuff that was built up before never found out or not fully explored or absolved. However there are some killer scenes – and singing – throughout.

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆
0 /10
  • Great stand-out performance from Cynthia Erivo in her debut!
  • Some nicely stylish sequences and flare with building up characterisation and tension
  • Narrative woes such as not fully exploring the myth of the El Royale hotel and character build up that doesn't pay off
  • ...still, a good time can be had at the El Royale here, as mentioned, if you get a kick out of 60's, 70's and 80's movie nostalgia!
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