Written and directed by Drew Goddard, Bad Times at the El Royale is a neo-noir crime thriller following several shady strangers who all happen upon each other at a rundown hotel where everything seems to go to hell.
I’ll begin with the best thing this film has going for it which is the fact that from a technical standpoint it is exquisite. From beginning to end there’s a stylistic hue over every scene that is impressive and at times stunning to watch. Almost every scene pops with bright colours and brings to life a captivating view of the 1960’s through a neo-noir lens. The set design and overall sleek style of this hotel makes every backdrop pop with something to catch your eye. The cinematography helmed by Seamus McGarvey is another impressive quality, the long takes and sweeping shots that navigate the hotel are beautifully framed and very effective in setting an eerie tone. A number of shots are framed to near perfection making the most of the environment to tell as much information as possible. Now this is all fantastic, but style is nothing without substance.
Another highlight is that there are a couple of genuinely intense sequences in here that will have you fully engaged and on the edge of your seat. Although, the entirety of these tense sequences occur in the front end of the film where there is more of a mystery element present and uncertainty to what is going to unfold. As the story begins unfolding the set-up is all there, it draws you in with the introduction of all these multiple character-centric storylines and heads off in a promising direction. But with time it gradually falls apart sucking all or most of the enjoyment out of the film.
As the story progressed I gradually lost interest in everything going on to where by the end I had no care for the story or characters. It takes some definitely weird and unexpected turns and unexpected isn’t always good. It’s never confusing though, by the end it all makes sense, how things connect is relatively clear, and the message behind certain minor elements is all there. But none of it is entertaining or fulfilling, rather it all comes across as a little pointless. The issue is it leads into things in a way that eludes to a certain specific direction and a certain level of interconnectedness, but random plot points are thrown into the mix here and there and turns are taken that felt odd and took away any investment I had in the story. I understood what was happening, I just didn’t care enough and by the end I had lost all interest in the story and characters who’s individual stories were a bit all over the place.
As far as the performances go I don’t really have any quarrels with anyone. No one stands out as fantastic but everyone from the main cast is good. Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, and Lewis Pullman all lead the film and I like what they all did here with their characters. Hamm brings a level of charisma to the film that definitely elevated the scenes he is in beyond any others, and Bridges I guess stands out above others because he’s Jeff Bridges. The performances had me care about the characters that is until the story takes them in certain directions where I then found myself hanging out for the final credits which were still a fair way away.
In the end, Bad Times at the El Royale has many enticing elements from the all-star cast, beautiful neo-noir aesthetic, and a mysterious undertone. But it completely falls apart as the story doesn’t seem to capitalise on the areas that would have made it a more interesting journey. Going into the second act it started to lose me to the point where I didn’t care by the time the credits began to roll. Weird is a great word to describe this film, sometimes weird turns out good, sometimes it doesn’t, in this case it really doesn’t. Nonetheless, the visual style and technical elements are great, the cast is all good, and there are like 2-3 sequences in here that are very smart and intense but it’s all overshadowed by a lacklustre story.