REVIEW: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Directed by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Written by Rhys Bowen-Jones

Drew Goddard is fast-becoming a household name. Having been on the scene for the last 10 or so years, he now has two directorial efforts under his belt, 2012’s cult hit horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods and now this, a neo-noir mystery thriller with an excellent cast to support it. As with Cabin, El Royale manages to put an enjoyable spin on a classic genre with an impressively surprising and twisty tale of violence and intrigue.

The El Royale Hotel exists on the state line between California and Nevada. A former hot spot for celebrities, it has seen better days and it finds itself as a late night refuge for a band of lovable misfits from across the land. As the hotel guests arrive, the hotel’s secrets reveal itself alongside the hidden pasts of its new inhabitants.

A film such as this – a dialogue-heavy mystery that relies as much on intrigue as it does on action – needs an onboard cast, and Goddard struck gold with those at his disposal. You have a powerhouse like Jeff Bridges, alongside a relative newcomer like Cynthia Erivo, backed up by a terrific actor who is due a leap into the Hollywood big leagues by now in Jon Hamm. That’s not even mentioning Chris Hemsworth in an against-type villain role and Dakota Johnson, one of Hollywood’s hottest rising stars. Everyone engages fully with their character, and it compliments the film beautifully.

In fact, its characters are the film’s strongest suit in my book. Every conversation is fascinating because it’s delivered with panache and passion, Jeff Bridges’ mysterious priest Daniel Flynn is an easy example of this. He takes a shine to Erivo’s equally mysterious (there’s a lot of mystery going on here, as is becoming clear) Darlene Sweet, a struggling singer from Indiana. The two have a conversation over pie about where they’ve come from and where they go is extremely engaging; Bridges, in particular, is terrific in this scene, managing to make me laugh and then pull at my heartstrings only a few lines of dialogue later. El Royale does an excellent job balancing these conversations with action, and this scene is the first example of this; you won’t see the climax of this scene coming and it made me react in a more visceral way than I would have done to a horror jump scare.

I could go on and on about the performances in this film. Jon Hamm impresses me every time I see him, and here it’s no exception. He starts off as Don Draper from Mad Men but with the irritating smarm cranked up to 100, but below the surface, he’s far more charming and genuinely funny than you first think. Dakota Johnson is effortlessly charming despite her villainous nature, pulling you in with her demeanour before stabbing you in the back. Chris Hemsworth, like I said earlier, goes against type as the film’s villain, and he absolutely convinced me that he would have young women fawning over him to do his every bidding. I quite liked Hemsworth here, I saw a different side of him that hasn’t been in his filmography thus far, hopefully, this signals the start of Hemsworth going for more alternative roles.

The film’s MVP is surely Cynthia Erivo though, given her relative lack of experience, but her ability to dominate a scene is unrivalled here. There are multiple scenes that showcase not only her acting skills but her singing ability too. Goddard puts her West End and Broadway background to terrific use. What could seem unnecessary is completely captivating because of how good a singer she is. I could listen to her sing for hours, and I’m honestly furious her versions of classic songs aren’t on the soundtrack.

There is so much good to say about the film that I haven’t even touched on yet. El Royale has extremely pretty visuals, gorgeous neon and bright colours surround the slightly garish hotel décor but it works thanks to its clever lighting, particular as fire comes into play at nightfall. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey is known for his visually compelling style given his experiences on 2014’s Godzilla and 2012’s Avengers Assemble, and it’s put to great use here, managing to make a film set completely within a hotel seem massive at times, sprawling through the dark corridors behind the scenes.

Goddard also excels on both a writing and directing level, for me. As already mentioned, his dialogue is completely engaging, but he has crafted a very delicate story that had to be told in a certain way. Using an easy framing structure of the characters’ rooms split up into chapters, he’s able to delve into the character and develop the story simultaneously. What I found particularly enjoyable was the way the stories overlapped; we’d finish with one character, take a step back in time to follow another character and witness how they affected each other, seeing scenes from different angles that reveal new information. It’s a really impressively design film on that level, and it fits exactly what I like to see in a noir mystery.

The film isn’t without its flaws, however, and that’s largely due to its runtime. I found the story enthralling for 80% of its 140 minutes, but in its final act, it really begins to drag itself out longer than it needs to. I got the impression that Goddard thought he had more loose ends to tie up than he needed to, even though he didn’t but still left a loose end unresolved. The atmosphere in the cinema changed in this final act; the excitable buzz from the people around me had vanished for people checking their watches next to me. It didn’t affect me too badly, but it’s a film that absolutely could’ve shaved 20 minutes off its runtime and it wouldn’t have hampered the film in any way.

Still, for its runtime to be my only real concern, I’d say El Royale is a sterling success. Drew Goddard continues to impress as a young director and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The cast is terrific across the board, hopefully making a star out of Cynthia Erivo and telling the world that Jeff Bridges has a lot of enthusiasm left in him yet. I had high hopes for the film going into it, and though it wasn’t quite the masterpiece I wanted, it’s still a terrific time at the cinema.

Rhys’ Verdict:

4

Advertisements

Let The Games Begin In New ‘Bad Times At The El Royale’ Trailer

“Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell.”

Directed by: Drew Goddard

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Offerman, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman

Release Date: October 5th, 2018

It’s Time To Check-In In The First Trailer For “Bad Times At The El Royale”

“Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell.”

Directed by: Drew Goddard

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Offerman, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman

Release Date: October 5th, 2018

 

Watch This Space: October 26 – November 1

Welcome to your weekly go-to film guide – WatchThisSpace – where we recommend what to watch in the cinema and on the television, and remind you of those brilliant films hiding in your DVD collection. This week, it’s all about spooks and scares, as we celebrate Hallowe’en!

IN THE CINEMA

It’s seemed like an eternity since the cinematic release date for ‘Spectre’ was announced, but the time is finally here! James Bond’s return to the big screen promises to be fantastic. Cast and crew have all claimed that this is the most ambitious Bond film of all time, in terms of scale and stunts. This may also be the final time that Daniel Craig will be starring as Britain’s best suave, super-spy, so we’re hoping this will be a fitting end to arguably the best Bond era there has ever been.

ON THE TV

Seeing as though it’s Hallowe’en this week (and given the fact that this is an awful week for films on television), we’ve decided to give you a run down of the best spooky films on offer on the 31st.

16:55 GMT: They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky. They’re altogether ooky. The Addams Family! At least that’s all I needed to get in the mood to watch this one! Watch the playful, family friendly, ‘The Addams Family’ on Film4 this afternoon.

18:00 GMT: Simply a classic in the genre of all things ghoulish, ‘Ghostbusters’ is a must watch this Hallowe’en on Comedy Central. It will make for some pleasant family afternoon viewing before the really scary stuff starts later on at night. So make the most of it whilst you can!

21:00 GMT: One of many adaptations of Bram Stoker’s famous fictional vampire, but 1992’s ‘Dracula’ is regarded by many as one of the best. Starring Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves under the direction of Francis Ford Coppola, this star studded adaptation hits all the right notes for a spooky night in. Tune in to Film4 for this classic horror/romance.

22:00 GMT: Undoubtedly one of the “big three”, ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ is more than a match for the ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ franchises, in definitively classic Halloween Horror movies, with plenty of sequels out of which to make a malicious movie marathon. Don’t miss Freddy Kruger at his filthiest on Dave and make sure to tuck in the covers extra tight! A near-perfect Halloween weekend picture.

22:25 GMT: Drew Goddard’s ‘The Cabin In The Woods’ is a film which has really divided audiences down the years. Some praise the originality, whilst others call it completely ridiculous and nonsensical. It’s a film that certainly ticks the boxes in terms of scares, gore and monsters but the plot is pretty far fetched. If you can open up your imagination and get involved in the narrative, head to Channel 5 tonight and get behind the sofa!

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

Creep: Not the Radiohead documentary we’ve all been craving. Instead, a delightfully dark, found-footage thriller, starring the terrific two man duet of Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice. When a videographer answers a Craigslist ad for a one-day shoot in a remote mountain town, he finds his client is not at all what he initially seems. A tremendously unnerving indie picture, that debuted out of 2014’s SXSW Film Festival, ‘Creep’ is a must-watch for anybody who likes Duplass’ work, and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat!

Phantom Of The Opera: The 2004 film adaption of the masterpiece musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and French Novel, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. A tremendous box-office success, ‘Phantom Of The Opera’, is delightfully mysterious, spooky, and musically inclined. Although panned by critics, this horror drama, directed by Joel Schumacher, is entertaining nonetheless for fans of the classic tale. Catch Gerard Butler in his best pre-spartan role, and dwell in the fantastic sets, magnificent costumes, great art direction, and imaginative camera work that will immerse you in such a dangerous time!

The Purge: You know the annoying guy in your office who’s always bragging about how great life is? Or the jerk that cuts you off in traffic with a stupid smirking face? Well, it’s time for payback. Release your vicious angst and vengeful thoughts with this horrifyingly wicked, mischievously original concept – for 24 hours, once every year, there is no law. Find out how truly terrifying it can be when there is no way to protect yourself and your family with this underrated hit.

Slumdog Millionaire: Danny Boyle’s new biopic, ‘Steve Jobs’, premiered in London this week, to a widely warm reception, with it already being tipped for academy awards. One of Boyle’s most celebrated films, by audiences and critics alike, was the 2008 smash hit, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. If you’re done with frights and trick or treaters, this winner of 8 Academy Awards, is perfect. The film follows Jamal (Dev Patel), who is arrested under suspicion of cheating his way to a fortune on India’s favourite game show, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. The film takes you on a journey through every walk of life across India, from the grand palaces and the Taj Mahal to the criminal undergrounds where human traffickers rule the cities. This moving and breathtaking film is an absolute must see if you haven’t already.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Nick Deal and Patrick Alexander.