Bad Times at the El Royale Review
When you realise that anybody is fair game
A great little throwback to the multi-narrative movies of the 90s borne from Tarantino's style, Drew 'Cabin in the Woods' Goddard's latest has one ace up its sleeve: mystery.Don't let the trailer fool you (or rather, perhaps let the trailer fool you), there's little that can be said or shown about this movie which will truly give you a clue as to what it is actually about, short of actually watching it.
Drew Goddard, of Cabin in the Woods fame, has crafted an equally unpredictable little multi-hander which is a love letter of sorts to the Tarantino movies of old (and new, like The Hateful Eight), and to all the films of varying quality which attempted to follow suit. Whilst it doesn't quite hit the memorable notes of those Tarantino greats - lacking the razor-sharp banter and not achieving the same level of unbearable tension, it does make for one hell of a mystery, where basically anybody could get killed at any moment.
Whilst it doesn't quite hit the memorable notes of those Tarantino greats, it does make for one hell of a mystery
The story has a diverse group of strangers converge at a shady motel which sits on the Nevada/California border. There's Jeff Bridges' preacher, Jon Hamm's salesman, Dakota Johnson's hippie, and Cynthia Erivo, who everybody assumes to be a prostitute. However, nobody is who they seem, with a hidden bag of money, a bunch of two-way mirrors, a cult leader and the FBI all coming together on one fateful, bloody night.
Knowing as little as possible about this movie is a benefit although, to be fair, as already stated, it's kind of hard to give anything away - the trailers can't do it - it's a superior mystery in that respect. Sure, as with a lot of those 90s entries which weren't Tarantino, there's no substantial depth to this tale of warring miscreants, affording viewers two plus hours of great entertainment, but not necessarily any immediate rewatch value (unlike, for a recent example, another nobody-is-who-they-seem mystery recently reviewed, Shutter Island).
But there's no denying the worth of a decent mystery, with the electric, eclectic bunch of familiar faces all engaging with their multiple personalities, convincing in every aspect of this game of who am I? Hamm (recently great in a rare lead as The Negotiator) steals the show early on, whilst Dakota Johnson blows away some of the painful memories of her 150 Shades, with Hemsworth escaping Thor-dom by going full Jim Morrison and Jeff Bridges (who hasn't been this good since Hell or High Water) chewing everybody off the screen. It's relative newcomer Cynthia Erivo who provides the beating heart and wounded soul of the piece, however, with a voice to die for. Now she's someone who should go on your radar right now, if she wasn't already.
For a sophomore writer/director feature, it's pretty damn good; it's got style and it's got swagger, and it's worth checking out
For as much as Tarantino's name gets mentioned repeatedly, Bad Times at the El Royale is also reminiscent of another curious little 90s mystery noir, Two Days in the Valley. Clearly, this is the kind of thing Goddard was going for, although his fondness for a more horror-esque vibe smacks more of Identity, or his earlier work Cabin in the Woods. Certainly, those who enjoyed Cabin should lap this up; for a writer/director who has his name all over a bunch of high profile titles (Buffy, World War Z, The Martian, the Cloverfield movies and Deadpool 2), it's strange to think that this is only his second directorial effort. For a sophomore writer/director feature, it's pretty damn good; it's got style and it's got swagger, and it's well worth checking out.
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