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Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Director: Drew Goddard
Writer: Drew Goddard

Bad Times at the El Royale follows a group of people who find themselves at a hotel that, while once a popular spot for people to stay, is now a rundown spot that people only stay at if they have to. All of these strangers have secrets and all of them have a role to play. Dock O'Kelley (Jeff Bridges) is a former thief that poses as a priest, Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) is the innocent one in the bunch as she's just a singer, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) is a trigger-happy woman who's trying to save her sister from a cult, Dwight Broadbeck is a CIA agent undercover as a vacuum salesman, and Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) runs the hotel. It's clear from the beginning that there's some tension between some of the characters, and when a moment of confusion leads to a character's death, all hell breaks loose.

I wasn't exactly sure what the tone of this film was going to be as I walked into the theater. I only watched one trailer and it looked a little Tarantino-esque and it also reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express. So I was expecting a bit of a murder mystery, but was more or less open to whatever. This isn't a murder mystery, though. This is a slow burn thriller, and a pretty good one at that. It takes its time setting everything up and it never exactly hits that point where everything starts moving really quickly, but that's okay because if it did this film would feel very rushed. There's a lot of story for them to get through here, and if it was a fast-paced thriller it would have come off as shallow and frankly kind of bland. But the slow pace really allowed for me to settle into the environment and start to care for the characters and their situations. None of the characters are unsympathetic, quite the opposite really as it's hard to dislike any of them. The two-hour and twenty-minute runtime is mainly composed of flash backs, dialogue-driven scenes, and tension building, but there are some moments of violence and it doesn't hold back when it happens.

The film begins with a fantastic scene that doesn't really matter until later in the film, but it's incredible well done. The editing and cinematography throughout this film was pretty top notch. It fit the quirky, but serious, tone of the film perfectly. We are then introduced to each of the characters as they meet each other in the lobby of the hotel, before they split up into their rooms where we find out more information about each one. Then interactions start to occur and the story starts to develop, and from there it's a slow-jog to the finish.

The entire cast puts in some great performances, which isn't that surprising considering how stacked the cast is. I will say that Jeff Bridges and Lewis Pullman stole the show for me, though. There's a scene towards the end with Jeff Bridges' character that made me feel a sense of dread that I never thought I would while watching a film like this, and I really was shocked by that.

My main grip with this film actually comes at the end, as I feel like one of the main "twists" (it has to do with the background of a certain character) that greatly affects the ending was a bit cheap and easy. I don't think this was an attempt at subverting expectations, either. I think Goddard genuinely thought it would be a good twist that the audience wouldn't really see coming, but in the end it just didn't have the impact he was hoping for. Apart from that, though, I enjoyed this film from beginning-to-end. Because it's a slow burn, this won't be for everyone, and some people will undoubtedly just say that Goddard was just trying to copy Tarantino, but it's worth a viewing for fans of the thriller genre.