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Review: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Directed by: Drew Goddard

Premise: Set in 1968, a group of strangers check into the El Royale hotel. Each of them guards a secret that is gradually exposed.

What Works: Bad Times at the El Royale has a compelling set of characters including a priest, a salesman, an aspiring singer, and a hippie played by Jeff Bridges, John Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, and Dakota Johnson, respectively. Of the leads, the most interesting are the priest played by Bridges and the singer played by Erivo. Their shared scenes have a subtle tension and Bridges and Erivo’s characters have a complex interior life. That’s especially true of the subtext in Erivo’s scenes. The movie is set in 1968 and she is the one non-white character in the film. Erivo and the filmmakers pick up on subtle racial tensions but don’t overplay them.

What Doesn’t: Bad Times at the El Royale is too long. The movie is segmented into chapters in much the same way that Quentin Tarantino does in his films. After opening with all of the characters checking into their rooms, the story then provides their backstories and shows a part of their stay. The problem is that this is done so inefficiently. There is a lot of overlap to the storylines but very little is gained from the shifts in perspective. We see the same events several times from different vantage points but the redundancy doesn’t change our understanding of what’s happening. As a result, Bad Times at the El Royale is slowly paced and it tries the viewer’s patience by showing us the same things over and over. The film also introduces a lot of late reveals and plot twists in a way that’s clumsy and interrupts the momentum of the story. Bad Times at the El Royale aims to be clever and it falls short. Everyone in the movie has a secret but the revelations don’t pay off. Most everything about the characters is obvious and the big twists aren’t very surprising. The movie doesn’t provide much insight into its characters or its time and place. The same series of events could playout anywhere or anytime. The filmmakers don’t get much out of the time period aside from a few effective song selections. 

Bottom Line: Bad Times at the El Royale has some interesting pieces but the film’s whole is less than the sum of its parts. The picture is too long, the story is clumsily structured, and the ending is underwhelming.

Episode: #724 (November 4, 2018)