“Bad Times at the El Royale” is Actually a Great Time

I had a damn good time at the El Royale, but I don’t think any of the characters really did. All of them seemed to have an absolutely abysmal time. Like…one star on Yelp levels of bad.

bad_times_at_the_el_royaleDrew Goddard is back with only his second film here, and he’s been out of the chair for six years. His last time at bat gave us The Cabin in the Woods and we’re all better for it, but he took a long time off afterwards and has delivered an entirely different animal this time. After knowing he wrote Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian I would have had no idea what to expect anyway but a Quentin Tarantino homage that manages to keep away from parody or worse – outright copycat work – is not the call I would have made. When this was announced I was curious but not quite sure if I was all that interested. It just seemed like something I’d seen before, a bottle-story that sounded like nothing new.

Then the cast was announced and sweet bejeezus it was great. Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, and Jeff Bridges should have been enough but then they added Dakota Johnson to the list and I was sold (don’t judge her based on 50 Shades of Grey, she’s a wonderful actress). Then the trailer dropped and I mean…once you’ve made the sale it’s a good idea to stop with the hard sell, but it looked like a blast. And it was, it really was.

Several strangers meet at a hotel – a priest with a failing memory, a singer stopping for the night on her way to a performance, a pissed off woman that refuses to be pleasant, and a vacuum salesman that just oozes sleaze, each meeting the concierge at the desk and demanding a room. None of them get along all that well, but they all manage to check in and get to their rooms. Hilarity ensues, and I’m not kidding on that because despite this being an intense and twisted thriller this wound up being pretty comedic at points in a good way. Not in the way you’d expect, but in a “sweet lord if I don’t laugh I’m going to squirm” kind of way. There are unexpected team-ups, revelations both obvious and out-of-nowhere, and slow moments that manage to keep you on the edge of your seat.

el_royalIt speaks to the quality of this film that many would sit around waiting for Chris Hemsworth to appear, as he’s currently the biggest star in the film and he doesn’t appear onscreen for at least an hour of the runtime, but for those here for the story are going to forget that’s even a factor until all twelve of his abs and that bananas waistline show up. Each character slowly interacts and side plots are shown to run together as we flash back and forth between them, colliding beyond the midway point and bringing everything together in an absolute shit-show of fun. Roulette, shotguns, fire, and what seems like Alzheimer’s all finally figure in to bring together this tight plot to the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised at almost everything.

00070.RAFI won’t lie about the film being perfect because it just isn’t. It’s a bit long and while I was never bored that won’t be the case for some people, there are laggy points in the last third of it. I just…I  take massive issue with one character in particular – that of Miles Miller, played by newcomer Lewis Pullman. The concierge is interesting and the performance is solid, but they save his personality and backstory for literally the last ten minutes of the film and that doesn’t sit well. Everyone else’s is peppered throughout the story, but his is put back and it’s for a last minute reveal that didn’t sit well with me by the time it was through. I get why Goddard went that direction but in doing so he did disservice to what I thought was a fantastic performance from someone I’d never seen before. It took away a bit, but it wasn’t enough to wreck the film (could have been, he’s lucky it wasn’t).

I weirdly like Giacchino’s score here. I’m not fond of him, anyone who knows me has learned not to set me off on that topic as I just can’t contain my dislike most of the time. That said…the score is great, and it’s peppered with enough perfectly targeted popular music that I didn’t notice any of his foibles if they’re there to find. I won’t say any more on it, just that I actually enjoyed a Giacchino score for once.

We’ve been given a second offering from Goddard that didn’t disappoint. It’s colorful in its darkness, gorgeously shot, and the performances are winners across the board (newcomer Cynthia Erivo is someone I didn’t talk about because I don’t want to spoil anything about her, she’s too cool for that). Take time out of your busy schedule, and it’ll take over two hours, and see this when you’ve got the time. Tarantino fans, people who loved The Cabin in the Woods or Cloverfield, and those who just want a bananas thriller should hit this one as soon as possible. We’re at the start of Oscar season but this isn’t part of that conversation at the moment, it’s just a great time. You won’t regret your stay at the El Royale.

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