Not often does a movie come out that is this entertaining and fun to look at!
Bad Times at the El Royale is the latest film from acclaimed writer/director Drew Goddard, best known for The Cabin in the Woods. This time, we are not in a cabin in the woods, but at the El Royale motel, which sits on the border between California and Nevada. On one particular day, seven strangers check in for the night, including priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), struggling singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), salesman Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), and a mysterious woman named Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). Soon after these characters get settled in their rooms, they discover that each one of them is hiding a secret, and are in even more when a dangerous man (Chris Hemsworth) arrives at the motel.
What follows is easily one of the most gorgeous looking thrillers that has been released in a long time. The look of the titular El Royale motel easily is some of the best production design of the year; from the luxorious lobby and dining room to the gritty and dark secret rooms revealed later in the story. Also, because the film is set in the 1960s, it is full of gorgeous period detail, including, but not limited to, rotary phones, a food dispensary, a classic record-playing jukebox, and even the ridiculous-looking table top television sets.
One of Drew Goddard’s strengths as a filmmaker is his ability to create a unique and bizarre premise, and keep it interesting through the film’s entire duration, as he did with The Cabin in the Woods. This film has a unique narrative, breaking the story up into acts whose title is the room number of a specific character. Once the first act ends, the film backtracks to a few minutes before, showing the previous events from the point of view of another character. This approach to storytelling, along with the rainy and deserted atmosphere, gives the film the identity of a noir thriller film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Goddard also shows his strengths in directing action with this film, because the timing on all of the action feels perfect, and some of the hits even managed to get some loud reactions from my audience.
The acting in the film overall is really good. Jeff Bridges remains as charming as he has always been throughout his whole career and brings everything he can to his role. Chris Hemsworth, who is also an actor with an unlimited amount of charisma, also does a great job, despite his limited amount of screen time. The real star who shines in this film is Broadway actress Cynthia Erivo, who is making her cinematic debut with this film. She plays a singer, and the film gets its money’s worth with Erivo, whose angelic voice adds an extra amount of flavor to the film’s soundtrack. The only subpar performance within the cast is Dakota Johnson, who I think can be a credible actress. Here, however, some of her line readings feel like they should have done a few more takes, because she does not exactly sell the violent and mysterious drifter character well. Thankfully, it does not bog down the rest of the film.
Bad Times at the El Royale is a great time at the cinema. Filled with bombastic action, incredibly detailed set design, and witty writing, the film is an overtly entertaining tale of violence and redemption, and the period setting makes the impact that much more captivating. It is easily one of the stand-out films of the year, and Drew Goddard has yet another grand film to have under his belt.