Bad Times at the El Royale

 

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Welcome to a hotel that may remind you of that one in The Shining.

   
Bad Ties at El Royale

Jon Hamm

 

Criticising this film is easy enough so it may be that my rating is on the high side, but the fact is that I enjoyed the movie and did so for the whole of its 141 minutes. My pleasure stemmed from many factors not the least of which was discovering that its writer/director Drew Goddard has a great sense of cinema (not being a fan of horror movies of any kind, I did not see the piece that made his name, 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods). Bad Times at the El Royale (in itself an engaging title) begins with a prologue which in its timing and effect immediately demonstrates Goddard’s mastery. In addition by incorporating jump cuts into an interior scene covering a short period of time the film invites us not to expect a narrative which will be a piece of naturalistic realism but instead to relish something much more fanciful.

 

This opening segment that will fall into place later in the tale is followed by events that take place ten years later. Save for a few brief flashbacks, this main narrative is set in a single location, the run-down El Royale hotel near Lake Tahoe, where, this being out of season, just a handful of guests are seen. They arrive for different reasons but what could be thought of as their interlocking tales share menace and mystery together with the revelation that not all of these visitors are the people they claim to be. We meet first Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), a singer due to perform in nearby Reno, and another early arrival is a salesman named Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm). Later they are joined by others (Dakota Johnson, Cailee Spaeny, Chris Hemsworth) while the hotel staff is comprised solely of Miles (Lewis Pullman) whose warning to Father Flynn that the El Royale is no place for a priest to stay proves well founded.

 

Bad Times at the El Royale is an entertainment with fine production values, a period setting (1969) that allows for a soundtrack featuring songs of that era and a relish for cinema that is at times Hitchcockian. It also delights in dividing up the narrative into titled sections thus enabling some play to be made with the time scale (an unexpected murder is reprised so that we see it three times). The editing adds moments of   shock value and the cast is uniformly top whole (relative newcomers do as well as the established names with special credit going to Bridges, Erivo and Pullman while fans of Hemsworth will be suitably taken aback).

 

The plotting is in its way very clever even if at times it is only a step away from being absurd enough to be risible. However, the oddest feature of Bad Times at the El Royale lies in the fact that this improbable drama with its appeal to film buffs gives signs of becoming a serious religious drama taking on redemption as its theme. It’s a transition that Goddard cannot really bring off (that’s why serious criticism can validly rip this film apart). Even so, with this cast it doesn’t seem like a ludicrous misstep. It provides a destination that surprises but, as a mystery tour that could lead you anywhere, Bad Times at the El Royale provides an offbeat and engaging evening out.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Chris Hemsworth, Xavier Dolan, Nick Offerman, Shea Whigham.

 

Dir Drew Goddard, Pro Drew Goddard and Jeremy Latcham, Screenplay Drew Goddard, Ph Seamus McGarvey, Pro Des Martin Whist, Ed Lisa Lassek, Music Michael Giacchino, Costumes Danny Glicker.

  
Twentieth Century Fox-20th Century Fox.
141 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 12 October 2018. Cert. 15.