REVIEW – “Bad Times at the El Royale”
Drew Goddard hasn’t stepped behind the camera since 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods, a film widely beloved and praised for its originality and mystery. Six years later, he brings us Bad Times at the El Royale – a star studded love letter to bloody, pulpy noir-mysteries. Seven strangers, each with a secret to hide, arrive at a rundown motel located between the state lines of California and Nevada. Over the course of one night, crosses paths, tensions boil, and truths come out. It’s one hell of an entertaining ride.
Even with a cast this big, the biggest star of the film is Drew Goddard’s direction and screenplay. The writing and story is so air-tight, and once it’s matched with the precision of his directorial efforts – Bad Times proves to be truly something special. There’s a one shot, tracking sequence in this film that just follows Jon Hamm’s character back and forth down a hallway for a good five minutes. I won’t spoil the context of the sequence – but it’s absolutely mind blowing how many things were in frame and actively playing out in real time. Goddard did a great job with The Cabin in the Woods, but with Bad Times he truly shows how far he can go as a director.
When talking about a film with an ensemble as big as this one, I usually try to praise the standouts of the cast. In the case of Bad Times, I find it difficult because I genuinely think every person in this film is at the top of their game. Jeff Bridges turns in his best performance since True Grit, Jon Hamm is a ton of fun to watch, Dakota Johnson possibly gives her best performance to date in this, and Chris Hemsworth nearly steals the show with sheer energy alone. On top of all that, newcomers Cynthia Ervio, Lewis Pullman, and Cailee Spaeny are all fantastic here and hold their own greatly against season actors and A-listers.
Bad Times at the El Royale is an absolutely bonkers and insanely entertaining ride from start to finish – but where it really succeeds is giving you characters to latch onto throughout and surprising themes that will marinate in your brain after you leave the theater. I don’t think it will be getting any Oscars next year due to it not really fitting into a specific mood for the Academy, but it sure as hell will find an audience that will be passionate about it for years to come. 4.5/5.