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Film Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

Managed to get to see Bad Times At The El Royale without reading any reviews or even getting a hint at what the story was all about. Quite a feat I hear you say, but that’s often the way I approach going to the movies these days. Often it pays off, and this was one of the occasions when it certainly did, as El Royale seeps, glides and effortlessly weaves a complex tapestry of ideas, that to watch it even slightly pre warned would do it an injustice.

Written, produced and directed by Drew Goddard, who you might remember from Cabin In The Woods and of course Netflix’s Daredevil, this is an almost Tarantino-esque screenplay that evokes a heady and claustrophobic era of pulp fiction from days of old. The basic premise of random strangers arriving at a run down hotel at the end of the 1960’s is well fleshed out as the film unwraps itself. We know there is something going on, but we have to rely on the “guests” slowly finding their roles within the El Royale before we get the gist of the story.

Initially we meet Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cyntha Erivo, all arriving at the El Royale and sizing each other up. The set, direction and camera work all come together to give these initial scenes an almost stage like quality. The cast all offer up the information we need to get things going, and the way these early encounters play out will remind many of you of a stage production. That’s not a bad thing though. The interplay between the characters is engaging and mysterious, and as new supporting cast members arrive from stage left, the plot becomes deeper, darker and more dangerous. Now, if you are expecting a Hotel Artemis type set up, then you are way off the mark. This is no action hero thriller tale, but instead a slow pot boiler of a yarn that takes hold of you and slowly absorbs you into it’s world.

The film itself is broken into separate “acts” that widen the canvas that we are watching, and telling us more and more about the events unfolding. It’s a layered and polished script, but don’t expect action set pieces and stunts. The violence in this hotel feels very real, sharp and violent. When the nasty stuff happens, it’s as much of a shock to the audience as it is to the characters.
Goddard also uses cinema tricks, such as showing us the same event, but from a different angle and perspective as the previous one, and jumping backwards and forwards in the timeline to highlight a plot point. Luckily this is done sparingly and well, so it doesn’t impact on the overall flow of the story.

There’s great performances from all involved here, and a creepy star turn from Chris Hemsworth, playing way against type and making the most of it. Now this is a long haul movie, the run time comes in at 140 minutes, and with plenty of long scenes of dialogue, by the time the credits roll, you will be ready to leave, and I know that this will probably go against it on it’s release. The trouble is that none of the scenes are wasted and they all feel relevant to the final cut, so I can only imagine how much has been lost in the edit. In 3 years time there will probably be a director’s cut that’s four and a half hours long, but if you go in expecting a long sit down, then you might be more sympathetic to it than some of the folks at our screening.

To be honest, there’s probably a pitch of this intended to be a Netflix series with 10 episodes, and I’m hoping if you go see this, you will see what i mean. So if you are looking for something a bit different this week, go check this out. I enjoyed it despite it’s wordy approach and long run time, but I warn you it might not be for everyone.

Rating: 7 out of 10