The Internet is an overwhelmingly negative place. It’s as depressing as Vanya in The Umbrella Academy. Or one of those miserable and cold days where you keep thinking it’s going to rain but really the weather’s going to remain bleak and mediocre. Those weren’t great analogies, but the point I’m trying to get across is that we need more positivity on the Internet. Thus, I’ve decided to speak positively about a movie I’ve recently watched, hopefully spreading the word on a story which nobody saw, that just happens to be – in my humble opinion – excellent.
Bad Times at the El Royale is the second movie directed by Drew Goddard following his work on The Cabin in the Woods with Joss Whedon, which is also terrific and riotously original and entertaining. Goddard, who also happens to be the creator of Daredevil (formerly the best show on television before the notorious and harrowing Netflix Massacre), is adept at creating a unique atmosphere in his work, that of intrigue and everything not quite being as it seems, something he played on to great effect with Cabin in the Woods, and does so with particular flair here.
The story of the movie (set in 1969) revolves around seven superficially normal people who all decide to stay at the El Royale, a once-glamorous Hotel on the Nevada-Northern California border. Over the course of one stormy, revelatory night, secrets are revealed and past sins encountered, as the Hotel plays purgatory for the seven, many of whom harbour dark secrets. Bad Times stars an ensemble cast, featuring Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman and an obligatorily shirtless Chris Hemsworth.
Beyond the realms of my belief, this movie was a box office failure, grossing just over $31 million on a budget of $32 million, disastrously unable to break even. This could be down to a multitude of reasons: poor marketing, competition from the Turd in the Wind that was Venom. But I’ve settled upon the genre and style of the movie. It’s a classically-styled noir flick, with heavy elements of mystery and a very vague premise. In the age of Blockbuster Superhero event movies, shipped out in their droves yearly, people just don’t have the time and/or money to invest in such a niche and underutilized genre. Similarly, it’s a dialogue and story driven movie: sure, there’s action in there, but the bulk of the film relies on acting and story to engage with the audience. It aimed to imitate in many respects the work of Tarantino in its storytelling devices, feel and dialogue, but unfortunately didn’t have his name behind it in the marketing.
I don’t care if the general critical response was just, ‘fine’: I freakin’ loved this movie. It’s one of my favourite movies I’ve seen in quite a while, and much of the reason for that is because of its originality. It’s not based off anything. It isn’t a sequel. It isn’t a reboot. It’s just a Spec Script telling a new story whilst paying tribute to both an era and a style of film which has now died out somewhat, the noir-thriller.
The movie looks and feels sublime. The era-accurate sets are wonderfully detailed, and the movie is aesthetically distinct, allowing for sprawling Tarantino-esque wide-shots held for tens of seconds at a time. Goddard is adept in his camera work, but also in maintaining a tense, unpredictable feeling to proceedings. If you know nothing about the movie going into it, there’s no way you’ll predict how it’s going to end. There are twists, turns, and despite the long runtime, the classy, intelligent storytelling and charismatic cast keep things entertaining and fresh.
Regarding the cast, the performances across the board are outstanding. Jeff Bridges gives off so many layers as ailing Priest Father Fynn, able to portray so many different sides and invest a depth, flawed-nature, but also likability in his character. Cynthia Erivo too is fantastic, proving to be the most empathetic of the characters, whilst also flawed in interesting ways. These very human, imperfect characters are a reason I connect with this movie: they support the narrative, and keep things engaging, beyond the awesome score and 60’s tunes and striking look the movie possesses. I realise I’m being vague, but I don’t want to spoil the movie. All I’ll say (so that I don’t give anything away) is that the entire cast is mesmeric, and Hemsworth saunters into Act three and steals this movie.
I enjoyed everything here, from the ‘Room x’ storytelling structure incorporated to reveal backstory, the ‘mystery box’ for each character as to why they’re doing certain mysterious things, but most importantly of all, that it’s a refreshingly self-contained story. This is a talky movie, yes, but also a smart one in developing strong characters and interweaving them with a twisting narrative which doesn’t shy away from brutality, creepiness or open ended exploration of themes. I won’t say any more – go and check it out. 🙂
Thank you for reading. I’ve now got a Twitter account, which you can follow @IamtheSenate18 (Cinema Vault – I am the Senate), for updates on all posts on my blog, or you can follow my Facebook page (also called Cinema Vault). Please feel free to like this post, or even share it below (it would mean a great deal), and until next time, I bid you adieu! 🙂