Bad Times at the El Royale is a superb telling of a mystery trapped within the formatting of a thriller. From beginning to end, I was completely engrossed in every element being displayed on screen, especially the wonderful characters and what consequences may come from their actions. Director Drew Goddard, who both wrote and directed, has created a near masterpiece through my expectations of the filmmaker. Although for others...that just might not be the case.
Drew Goddard has created a master class thriller with hints of a polarizing mystery scattered throughout, while in turn making a film that not only acknowledges its cleverness, but one that takes time to build to climatic ends. Bad Times at the El Royale is a gorgeous film that is illuminated by a consistent grim nature with a wonderful mix of hopeful themes and eerie ones as well. Every shot of the film feels precise and exactly as the filmmaker intended, which makes the story much more cinematic and immersive. To put it into perspective, Bad Times at the El Royale is the Cabin in the Woods of thrillers-- just cancel out all the insanity at the ending of Cabin in the Woods and replace it with tension throughout the entire feature. The film is long but somehow evenly paced, as there’s not a single moment that I as a viewer would want the filmmaker to take out. It appears that every second is character building and without that, it’s hard to say if I would of cared for or despised so many of the characters.
There is a lot happening in Bad Times at the El Royale and without the fine direction, as well as writing of Goddard, this would have been a disaster. Each character gets their own backstory and the film is chopped into several segments to make sure that each side of the overhanging story is being told. From each room the guests check into, to several places in the past to reflect back on, the story doesn’t shy away from providing as much information as is needed to care for each and every character. The story is an entanglement of all these different characters who happen to stay at the El Royale together, and it’s not that they seek the same ending, but nonetheless they wind up together in the end for one wild finale. The plot is not absolutely perfect, leaving a few loose plot holes lying about, including who killed Father Flynn’s brother and who exactly is “management,” so these are some things to think about as you watch the film.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Bad Times at the El Royale is fueled by it’s plethora of surreal and finely detailed characters. Goddard has a way to expand upon his characters, and uses every second of his runtime to make sure that each character gets the prompt background that they deserve. As the story progresses, several characters’ motives are revealed, and while not all are there for the same purpose, they are there for a reason. Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn probably has the most emotionally backed story out of everyone due to having a crucial health crisis. He makes his motivations very clear and Bridges’ performance is one of his absolute best. Bridges brings a charm and delight to the viewer from our perspective off screen and even when he leans towards a more criminal intention, his reasoning is usually not so atrocious. Cynthia Erivo who makes her feature debut in El Royale provides us a phenomenal performance that from the beginning enticed me with her incredible mystery and her reactions to guests at the hotel, only to have every theory defunct in front of my eyes. Jon Hamm’s Laramie Seymour Sullivan has a leading backstory, one that doesn’t fit well into the atmosphere of the El Royale, but one that if kept hidden could do a lot of good, and that’s not something you’d ever expect from another character in the film, Miles Miller. Lewis Pullman plays Miles Miller, the bellhop and truly the only person working for the El Royale on site. He is a troubled young man who seems to take on his hidden demons with drugs in the backroom while the guests rummage. There’s a purpose to his usage and his reveal is quick as well as devastating, but one that provides swift justice to those around him. Then there’s Dakota Johnson’s Emily as an intriguing character, and her and her captive, Ruth, really bring out the sense of desperation and the desire to just get away from their troubles no matter what the cost. It’s a fantastic character device, and one that builds up a ton of mystery behind every devastating action the duo makes on screen, including bringing in our film’s villain. Chris Hemsworth is surreal in this film. He is almost unrecognizable, not in looks, but in the way that he is perceived. Hemsworth’s villain (without giving much away) is surely the breakout performance of the feature in total.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Michael Giacchino has the magical talent of composing some beautiful and eventful scores within some really terrible features, while at the same time encompassing the visual journey we go through in some of the best pieces of work ever created, and this happens to be one of the great ones. A flawless mix of genres lies within Giacchino’s score and his music isn’t the only triumph. Bad Times at the El Royale’s sound design is that triumph, having multiple perspectives being represented as a gun goes off, it is heard from different aspects of the story from different angles as the characters having their lead on screen. The lyrical songs within Bad Times at the El Royale are a grand slam, as I was tapping my foot throughout and silently applauding every song decision, while actually fearing the circumstances of a quiet atmosphere within the world Goddard has created.
There is a preciseness to all the visuals, and from their timing to the style they display, I was astounded by it all. From the very opening of the film, I was dazzled by the color scheme, the era the film chose to set itself in, and the makeup that laid within the impact of all the characters’ actions. The set design and how intricate every room, along with the El Royale’s exterior surroundings. For such a small location, there are many secrets being held within and that’s not only because of the elaborate storytelling, but the set design it occurs within. There is quite literally zero that can be said in disdain for the effects department.
Six years since the release of Cabin in the Woods, one of my favorite horror-comedies as well as a film that gets slightly better with every viewing, Bad Times at the El Royale has been released. As stated in the opening of this review, I feel like this film is a near masterpiece, which is an accomplishment in its own right with the thriller genre, along with being a welcoming follow up to the absolutely bonkers Cabin in the Woods.