Bad Times at the El Royale is the second feature film from writer/director Drew Goddard, who seems to have watched a few too many Tarantino films. Heavy on the exposition and light on the action, the film starts with a slow burn, the story chopped up into different chapters, each with a full-screen title to introduce it. Jumping from character to character, we watch scenes from their eyes, often witnessing an event that has already occurred but from a different vantage point, revealing more about the story and characters. This plot device has become very common but isn’t over used in this instance and it serves the film well, helping the tension to build. These scenes and a few flashback moments are constructed in a way that renders it easy to follow the chronology of the story. In this regard, El Royale is built very well and these scenes that fill the first two acts of film flow seamlessly.
Although the near flawless mechanics and the slow build up create an atmosphere that feels like an incoming missile, the great work is slightly ruined by some lackluster action scenes, some of it awfully predictable. It doesn’t last long – over quicker than expected, and the same can be said about the final act as a whole.
This disappointment is forgivable thanks to some rich characters who bring charisma to the screen, Chris Hemsworth as a Manson type cult leader being the most prominent. Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn is unsurprisingly fantastic, as is Cynthia Erivo: a singer with a personality that surprises. Jon Hamm as an FBI agent also brings something different to the table, though some of his lines designed to elicit laughs fall flat.
The hotel itself is a character, with a very dark past, and one element of this becomes an important part of the final act; though this mcguffin of sorts feels a little arbitrary. Built on the state line, amusingly half the hotel is in California, half in Nevada. There is also only one employee who is surprised and clearly rattled by so many people arriving at the hotel at once. Something about the hotel and the way it is presented gives it a personality, aided by an interesting and quiet first scene where the prize that is the centrepiece of the final act is laid underneath the floorboards of a room. But which room number?
Despite the array of characters, the plot never feels convoluted. It is believable and well written, both the story and the characters that inhabit it. The beginning of the final act is also entertaining as the Manson-like Hemsworth steals the show, along with his cohorts. But when the fire is lit, it is extinguished a little too fast. It is far from terrible, but some of it is clumsily executed, set-pieces failing to fall into place as well as they could have.
Tarantino fans will enjoy this film with ease, and Quintin’s ability to create supreme set-pieces is perhaps the reason for the action feeling a little underwhelming, as the film feels incredibly like a film made by him. Executed well for the most part, El Royale is a fun film with a long run-time that flies by. If only that final act had delivered what the first two promised.
Once over, the story feels unfinished. Why did so many people arrive at this run-down hotel at once? How do the news stories shown on television relate to the story, as one story seems to bother Darlene? There is also nothing to lead us to believe that most of the characters know about the prize buried in one of the rooms, so consequently, the arrival of so many people in such a short time-span seems unbelievable.
But hey, its only a movie, right? If anything, it is certainly memorable.
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