Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

Cast: Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Cynthia Erivo
Director: Drew Goddard

Mashing noir, mystery, Hitchcock and horror, meta-horror The Cabin In The Woods director Drew Goddard's Bad Times at The El Royale's mix proves to be an intriguing cocktail that tastes initially sweet, but slightly sours towards the end.
Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

Set in 1969 and in a hotel that straddles two state lines (Nevada and Califronia "warmth and sunshine to the west, hope and opportunity to the east"), a series of strangers, each with a secret, check in to the El Royale.

Among their number is Jeff Bridges' priest, Cynthia Ervio's soul singer, Jon Hamm's salesman, and Dakota Johnson's mysterious edgy woman. As the night progresses, the reality of what's going on gradually reveals itself, leading to an unexpected showdown.

It's difficult to write too much about the occasionally slow Bad Times at The El Royale without giving too much away.

The sense of mystery is predicated by a "chapters" feel to proceedings which sets up the goings on, before delivering a punchy ending and leaving you wanting an immediate resolution to each vignette.

And in some ways, that's also part of the problem of Bad Times at The El Royale - a deliberately delayed gratification which gradually dulls the shocks as they come. Certainly the first comes absolutely out of nowhere and is breath-taking; but after that, you start to feel dulled to it and expect that each ending will have them.
Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

All roads lead to the arrival of Chris Hemsworth's Charles Manson type character, complete with acolytes in the third act of the film. But unfortunately, Hemsworth doesn't quite pull off the menace required, landing more on slightly campy sinister Jim Morrison than actually full on frightening; certainly, the charisma of the leader isn't quite there, even if you're repeatedly distracted by the shirtless sculpting going on.

That said, there are some moments that Bad Times at The El Royale pulls off with veritable aplomb.

The sense of unfolding mystery and off-kilter edges are nice touches throughout, with unease and a sideswipe at authority of the time propelling what's unfolding; more is implied than explicitly said at times, and it works well - even if at 140 minutes, the film starts to flag under its own weight. It ends in a fiery spectacle, befitting of the Hell implications of the Royale, and also showing how characters have to walk the line between right and wrong.

In love with its own soundtrack (even down to Erivo's continually impressive, but sometimes irritating, Motown singing), Bad Times at The El Royale's queasy mix of time hops, false starts and occasional propensity to shock makes it a carny ride of dramatic proportions, as everyone looks for some kind of redemption.
Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

But the MVP of proceedings is easily Lewis Pullman's concierge Miles. Without revealing too much, Pullman imbues Miles with an edgy demeanour of a guy caught in the wrong place at the wrong time - and it's quite unnerving and electrifying.

Not quite the chamber piece you'd be expecting, Bad Times at The El Royale benefits from Goddard's now trademark subversion of the genres involved. It's a notch above pulpy at times, but its ultimate switch at the end isn't quite as strong as the build up would have you hoping for.

It is one hotel to check into though, but you'll be glad it's for one night only.

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