Bad Times At The El Royale - This Movie Rocks All The way Through A Rain-Soaked Nightmare Of A Night
Dir: Drew Goddard
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny
When Drew Goddard last directed a film (The Cabin In The Woods) he took his characters to an isolated building, revealed its labyrinthine secrets, and then went all batshit crazy on us.
Well, this time out we are once again in a singular building – the titular El Royale, a state-straddling yet remote hotel, well past its Rat Pack prime, and whilst the cast is fundamentally new (and full of more big names), Chris Hemsworth remains in situ.
What Goddard also does here though is display how much he has progressed as a filmmaker, delivering a noir that dabbles in pastiche but rises above it, presenting a film that shows the director fully in command of his story telling powers.
The El Royale is a beaten up, bruised hotel that borders the states of California and Nevada – literally – a line runs down the middle of it so you can step from one state into the other. Into this antiquated stop-over (this starts in 1959, but is mostly set in 1969) comes a priest, a singer, a vacuum cleaner salesman, and an angry hippie with a woman in the boot of her car. As they choose their rooms, we learn their stories and soon – well, you know, things kinda get out of hand.
Against a night of unrelenting rain and imminent storm, Goddard weaves his disparate tales together brilliantly – offering up disjointed overlapping time lines to drip feed new information into the whole as we re-watch events from different perspectives. Thus, Hamm’s salesman becomes embroiled in Johnson’s kidnapping, as Bridges’ priest becomes forever linked to Erivo’s singer. Along the way we get not only a great period soundtrack (some originals, some covers) which becomes something of a character in its own right (abetted by the great Michael Giacchino filling in the thematic gaps) but reference to everything and everyone from Phil Spector to L. Ron Hubbard to Charlie Manson (watch out, Tarantino.) And yes, Hemsworth – who is all open shirt and bare torso – we mean you, with the actor delivering a magnetic turn as Manson manqué Billy-Lee.
With his arrival things do indeed escalate, but to Goddard’s credit he paces his movie remarkably well, constantly building tension, sometimes under-cutting it with humour, but always projecting it forward to some sense of terrifying inevitability. And rarely letting his audience know exactly where he’s going. It’s a movie where you keep being caught out by your own expectations - and that’s a good thing.
Beautifully shot by Seamus McGarvey, this is completely assured and remarkably under control. Bad Times is Goddard delivering his Best Times.
(Oh, and did we mention Jeff Bridges is a total God? Again?? Well, he just is.)
Bad Times At The El Royale can be had from October 12
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