[Review] Bad Times at the El Royale
By John Blackburn
Bad Times at the El Royale is a new crime-thriller from Drew Goodard, writer and director of some great flicks in the past like The Cabin in the Woods and The Martian. It all takes place during the late 60s at a hotel that rests between the state lines of California and Nevada called the El Royale. Here, a bunch of strangers are all coming to spend the night during a thunderstorm. Among the guests checking are a struggling underpaid backup singer named Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), Father Daniel Flynn who is not as he seems (Jack Bridges), a vacuum salesman who is secretly a FBI Agent (Jon Hamm), and a young southern kidnapper with attitude (Dakota Johnson).
Each character has strong personalities and interesting backstories, with different goals that unravel in a way that is very reminiscent of a Tarantino movie. Erivo is one of the best actresses in this film, she gives a fantastic performances for both acting and singing. You do sympathise with her when you see her backstory and want to see her get out of the chaotic nightmare that unravels at the hotel. She is definitely a strong presence on screen, alongside Jeff Bridges who does have some likeable and sympathetic moments as a shady character with memory problems. Let’s not forget Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee, a charming and manipulative, yet intimidating hippie cult leader. He takes centre stage during an intense final act and he’s incredibly entertaining to watch in all the right ways. Furthermore, the production design within the hotel deserves a mention for being as legitimately 60s as possible and the cinematography really captures this and shows off the hotel wonderfully.
Now when I said earlier that this film unravels in the most Tarantino way possible, I do mean that. Some film critics and fans of Tarantino flicks like The Hateful Eight and Pulp Fiction may think “been there, done that”. Not to mention that while the hotel does have a disturbing history, the concept of the place being built between two states goes only as far as fun banter in the first act. It’s a shame because I thought that it would play a bit more of a part in the climax, maybe involving conflicting state laws. Additionally, one particular character does get a flashback moment during the climax and I honestly thought it ruined the tone and pacing a little bit.
Overall, while Bad Times at the El Royale may seem like nothing new to some Tarantino fans, I think some people would find this engaging and entertaining to watch. The cast are spot on with different personalities and backstories all coming together on one stormy night in a shady hotel.