#REVIEW: “BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
The El Royale is a motel in Lake Tahoe that straddles the borders of Nevada and California. It was once thriving, but in 1969, it is now a desolate vestige of its former self. As a storm approaches, several guests are checking in – each more enigmatic than the next – and they quickly discover that everything is not what it seems.
Bad Times at the El Royale is the long awaited second feature from Writer/Director Drew Goddard. His debut feature, The Cabin in the Woods, delighted in dissecting the horror genre and smashing conflicting genres together. He does not spend as much time dissecting in Bad Times, but he has a blast blending multiple hard-boiled genres into one cohesive whole. The Film’s sprawling 141-minute running time may seem daunting, but it allows Goddard to fully develop and elaborate on each of his seven central characters through multiple “chapters”. It also gives him the ability to tinker with time, playing and replaying events all while deliberately jumping around the Film’s timeline. This level of detail works in the Film’s favour in many instances, but others are overly meticulous and downright frustrating. This is ambitious filmmaking, and I wish Goddard’s bold choices paid off better.
Where the narrative stumbles, the set design and style deliver in spades. This is an absolutely gorgeous film that uses every element on-screen to its advantage whether it be through flashback or within the titular motel. One lengthy tracking shot involving Jon Hamm’s character exploring a creepy hallway, all while Cynthia Erivo sings her heart out in real time, will go down as one of the most inventive and memorable scenes of the year. The El Royale’s neon lights are used to amazing effect (specifically alongside the rain), as are the washed-out tapestries and motel rooms. I was in absolute awe during some scenes, paying more attention to everything except the action unfolding.
The small ensemble Goddard has assembled is eclectic to say the least, but each member brings something special to their stay at the El Royale. Jeff Bridges is surprisingly deep, emotionally investing and committing to everything thrown at him. Hamm and the scene stealing Lewis Pullman both do a terrific job gradually unpacking their enigmatic characters. Cailee Spaeny marries terrifying and mysterious wonderfully, and Chris Hemsworth walks the fine line between dead serious and complete insanity (but he could have improved on whatever voice he’s putting on). But they all pale in comparison to Erivo. She is the heart and soul of the Film, commanding the screen with her every step and her incredible singing voice. Stacking her work here alongside her mesmerizing turn in next month’s Widows, it is clear this relative newcomer is a star in the making.
And while I wish she was given even more to do, I enjoyed the level of badassery put on by Dakota Johnson throughout Bad Times. She is a force of nature that rips through every scene, searing a hole right through the theatre screen. We need her crafting more performances like this stat.
Bad Times at the El Royale is well made and has terrific performances from all of the main players. It runs a little too long and does not come together as well as I hoped, but the style that oozes from every pore more than makes up for its shortcomings.
20th Century Fox Canada release BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE on Friday, October 12, 2018.