by Dominic V. Cassidy
*SUPER SLIGHT SPOILERS FOLLOW*
BAD Times at the El Royale is a movie as much steeped in tension as it is dripping with the sweet Neo-Noir of late 1960’s Americana. The music, set design, cars, and clothes all feed into the almost timeless spaceless feel of the film, because even though you know it’s not happening now, it feels like a story some old guy is telling you, it jumps around in the story taking stops to describe the pasts and presents of the excellent cast characters.
Bad Times is the second film to be directed by Drew Goddard, and the first since 2012’s critically acclaimed Cabin in the Woods, and it definitely bats away any concerns that this feature would not stack up against the meta, introspective horror flick. Goddard has many writing credits under his belt, with Cloverfield, World War Z, and The Martian; and this really shows in his stay at the El Royale, with the story weaving perfectly between past and present, in a way only Tarantino of the Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill Era could ever hope for. His control of the cast is like that of an orchestra, with everyone playing their parts and working in perfect unison, every take could have been perfect for all the viewer knows; and with the stars of the film reportedly taking pay cuts for the off kilter picture, it really shows how much they were all behind it.
Moreover the cast all have their moments, but there is no hiding that the whole show is stolen by Cynthia Erivo, who plays Darlene Sweet, a hard on her luck soul singer, running from a purgatory of back up singing. Erivo mostly has credits as a theatre star, which is used to perfect effect in Bad Times, with her quaking, songbird voice erupts in every scene necessary used in ideal dichotomy with the heart stopping tension that bleeds through the movie. Jeff Bridges as always gives a great performance, akin to the kind of roles Clint Eastwood has done in years gone by, playing an aged outlaw, the substance and vigour of Bridges performance is fantastic however, offering up a real raw, pity-able character study, of someone lost. Across the cast list great performances are given, with short Pulp Fiction-y flashbacks which offer an audience only perspective of the character. While an excellent cast, it is not infallible, Dakota Johnson’s counter culture hippy Emily, seems the weakest link of the cast, doing things which seem out of character almost, and not being believable from the actress. Commendation should be tossed over to Chris Hemsworth also, who displays a real charisma which you won’t be seeing in the latest Avengers
(Tweet from Mr. Bones)
The cinematography is used in this film expertly and shows real development from Cabin in the Woods; making real use of the setting of the film, the whole perfectly symmetrical hotel setting works in a really lovely way. It does however add to the sense of tension that pervades the movie, and seems to be what the film is really about, with the movie mixing a ball of cement in your stomach, you catch yourself not breathing during it, out of abject fear. The film knows when to stop however, trying hard not to overwhelm the viewer, for fear of turning folk off it; it rides the line between tense as fuck and too tense so closely.
The music is something which likens the film mostly to those of Quentin Tarantino, with one scene in particular really hammering that home. It is a comparison that has been made widely since the films release, but it doesn’t come across so aggressively when actually viewing the film, more seeming like it is from a similar style school. It does however capture things that have arguably been lacking in recent Tarantino releases, really capturing a great style and sharp punchy dialogue, but improves on other aspects, knowing how to manage silence, and writing amazing characters you can invest in.
In summation – Bad Times at the El Royale, is a slow burning, stylish, neo-noir thriller, which is a fantastic popcorn, white knuckle, edge of the seat, stress fest; featuring great performances from Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Hemsworth. It really shows how much a great journeyman director with a good script and cast, and well worth a watch!
8 and a half hotel room keys of of 10