Drew Goddard assembles one of the year’s best cast in a screwball thriller that will make you wonder what exactly is going down.
Title Bad Times at the El Royale
Starring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth
Director Drew Goddard
A slick thriller in which four strangers check into the isolated El Royale motel in 1969, located in between the state lines of California and Nevada. Jeff Bridges is a priest, Cynthia Erivo is a singer, Jon Hamm is a salesman (not quite Don Draper) and Dakota Johnson arrives fashionably late as a steely impatient hippy. As the day turns to night; secrets are revealed, blood is shed and Jeff Bridges drinks all of the whisky.
After 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods was unrestrained, uncontrollable and unleashed to audiences, it was hard to imagine just how director/writer Drew Goddard would top his efforts of a modern perplexing horror. His script for Ridley Scott’s The Martian earned him an Oscar nomination in 2015, so it confirmed he was one to watch. Now he presents his second solo directorial effort and it does not disappoint. The execution of his homage to noir with all-thrill all-fun scares is superbly made, such as the wide shots captured by Seamus McGarvery or the smooth editing by Lisa Lassek. The former perfectly provides one of the best shot moments of the film in which it reveals that (spoiler, not spoiler) each room of the motel has been rigged with a two-way mirror, later playing into another twist and a nob to Cabin.
Another brilliant moment of the film is its opening scene edited into a time-lapsed montage featuring Nick Offerman as a mysterious man, who enters into his motel room, moves the furniture to one side and peels back the carpet and floorboards to stash a duffel bag of money. Once the room is put back to function, Offerman’s character is discovered and shot dead. Blood hits the camera, ten years passes. Question – how does the opening scene play into the main plot? Time will tell.
Whilst Goddard’s writing is laden with stellar dialogue and his direction never wastes a moment of his actors’ time, he trips up on its drawn out running time of 140 minutes and despite a tense third act, you feel the film struggling to make a final landing. However with the capable cast you are never remotely bored, such as veteran Jeff Bridges who makes his amnesiac lead role as Father Flynn seem effortless, or the incredible Chris Hemsworth playing against type from his God of Thunder best, but the film belongs to breakout Cynthia Erivo who makes use of her Tony awarded pipes. Don’t let the singing fool you for a second, Erivo manages to expertly hold her own against Hollywood heavyweights Bridges and Hemsworth and takes every moment to show Darlene Sweet’s helplessness as she’s watches in horror at a night gone awry or when she’s taking a tongue lashing from a record label prick (Xavier Dolan speaks the King’s English in an unexpected cameo).
In the meantime to reveal its countless twists and turns would ruin the film, so to truly appreciate Bad Times at El Royale; go see it, sit firmly at the edge and chow on popcorn – but don’t expect Oscar gold here, it’s all about fun and Goddard delivers it on a platter.