Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Film: 'Bad Times at the El Royale'

With my penchant for 'strange' films, I didn't want to miss out on the chance of seeing this, even if it meant going to one of the just three evening screenings and returning home well after dark and within an hour of my usual bed-time, such a rare event for me. It turned out not to have been very wise as I found it deeply unpleasant, with much blood-letting - and yet....and yet.....somehow oddly compelling, almost hypnotically so.
It's one of those storylines where nothing is as it seems on the surface, leaving one questioning at every one of the many twists and turns, exactly what is going on?  

It's the late 1960s. In a secluded, empty hotel, located exactly on the California/Nevada border in the off-season, (raining like hell all the time, of course!) a small group of oddball characters appear singly, each to book a room - an ageing priest (Jeff Bridges), a black, struggling, session backing singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum-cleaner salesman (John Hamm) and a mysterious, unfriendly young woman (Dakota Johnson) carrying something unexpected in her car. All are seen to by the single staff member present on duty (Lewis Pullman) who seems to be little more than a bellboy in an hotel which hides its own secrets.
There's a strange and violent pre-title prologue to the story proper before the film starts filling in the banks with tantalising clues as to what it's about. Focus keeps shifting from one character to another, fleetingly going back in time then jumping forward to the present. Are their stories linked? We're left guessing until the final stages (too drawn out!) when a new, cultish, quasi-messianic, criminal character (Chris Emsworth) turns up to dominate the entire proceedings, someone whose existence had only been hinted at briefly in an earlier scene. This final section of a 2hr 20 mins film, is the most violent of all (mostly guns) as well as being the longest - also, disappointingly, the least quirky as it attempts to tie the strands together of a, by then, complicated plot, and goes for the predictable, lazy finish. An unresolved, up-in-the-air ending would have been closer to the film's spirit.

I don't think the film had the courage of its convictions in keeping up the strangeness and odd attraction of its initial three-quarters. Director Drew Goddard ('Cabin in the Woods' of 2012) tries, mainly successfully, to tease us by keeping back information in the film's earlier moments but it stretches ones credence a bit too far when the final, supposedly revelatory, scenes are played out.

On the whole I did quite like it, though felt a little short-changed despite its length. I'd recommend it for those who are drawn to strange stories, not minding too much if it's hard to fathom, but not for those who demand satisfactory answers as part of their 'entertainment'. I'd also suggest that if you are going to see it, try and attend a screening where you don't come out of the cinema into the dark................7

(IMDb....................7.5 / Rott. Toms................6.5)


  1. I sort of half wanted to see this film, in a long 10 days when there has been nothing to see, but was put off when reading the plot and seeing that it would not really be my sort of film. I found your review interestingly like I think I would have found the film and the ending seems like it would completely piss me off at having sat through 2 hours of film only to have a cop out for an ending. I have read your whole review word for word in that I know I won't go and see it and feel happy with my decision. Thank you.

    1. Its a most uneasy watch, Rachel, and I think it would help if you're favourably disposed towards such films in order to 'enjoy', or simply to appreciate, this one.
      If it had ended in similar mood to all that had gone before I think it could well have been extremely good, but having said what I have, it missed its target.
      The end wasn't so such a cop-out as the writer/director Drew Goddard thinking "Oh, let's get it all wrapped up and over with", not caring about the paucity of imagination. A sorry finish, I thought.
      If I've saved you money by swaying you not to bother, then that may be regarded as a 'plus'.

    2. I had decided not to see it already. Your review confirmed the decision was right for me.

  2. Hamm and Hemsworth.
    Yeah, I'm shallow like that.

    1. Hemsworth has a certain magnetism, Bob, I'll allow you that - but you've got to wait almost two hours for him to get his star dominating turn.
      As for John Hamm's character, he gets the focus in the film's early stages. I'd better not say any more than that.