Film Review – Bad Times at the El Royale
Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard is back, baby! And boy does he have a lot on his mind. Perhaps too much, as his first helmed film since 2012’s wonderful The Cabin In The Woods consistently manages to feel as lofty as it does bloated.
Bad Times at the El Royale is essentially a bottle episode stretched to feature length. Set in the late 1960’s, most of the action takes place at the titular hotel, a once-hopping celebrity palace that is now conspicuously empty, save for the wiry sole employee Miles (Lewis Pullman) and four strangers with seemingly no connection aside from a need for a bed for the night.
Goddard’s gonna Goddard, though, so secrets are soon to spill. Some are running from demons while others are intent on catching them.
Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a vacuum cleaner salesmen equal parts charm and smarm, is the first to arrive but is soon joined in the mysteriously empty lobby by struggling singer Darlene Sweet (Broadway star Cynthia Erivo), jaded flower child Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) and priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges). Yeah, this cast is straight stacked.
I’ll tread lightly from here on out, as there are more reveals in this thing than a peep show. Tell you what, I’ll not spoil any more than the trailer does..
The film is segmented off by individual room. We immediately know something is up when Laramie, post-haste, tears his apart in search of bugs (monitoring devices, not creepy crawlies) and…let’s just say his hunch is not unfounded. Suspicion paired with a little sleuthing lead him to discover a secret, dank pathway with a voyeuristic view of each room via two-way mirrors. Hmmmm.
This scene in particular is meant to be something a standout, if a little gimmicky in this day and age. It’s an unbroken tracking shot following Laramie as he paces to peer into each occupied room. Simultaneously, Darlene is (beautifully) singing from her own room, which I’ve since learned was done in real time. That’s pretty damn cool on paper, but in action, somehow misses the mark. A trend that unfortunately continues throughout.
Goddard seems to be aiming to deconstruct a certain kind of film from a certain Quentin Tarantino the same way he expertly turned the slasher film on its head with The Cabin In The Woods. But the spark here is dim. The cast itself is uniformly great, but their patter and patterns never quite land in a satisfactory way.
Given its wholly unnecessary 2 hour and 22 minute runtime, El Royale ultimately doesn’t have a hell of a lot to say. A too-late-in-the-film introduction of a new character (Chris Hemsworth, having a shirtless ball) finally brings with it some stakes, stakes we could have easily gotten to earlier.
I’ve apparently hardened on the movie in the two weeks since I saw it, but it was at no point an unenjoyable experience. With a powerhouse cast like the one Goddard has assembled, there’s almost always someone or some speech to temporarily hang your hat on. A healthy trim and a less lackluster conclusion and this thing could have been great. Like Cabin In The Woods great. Here’s hoping for next time.