Bad Times at the El Royale, written and directed by Drew Goddard, is a film that fully luxuriates and indulges – and sometimes languishes – in its dialogue heavy scenes. While some serious trimming could have occurred to help streamline this film, it does mean you’ll never find yourself wanting for more. With nuanced and intriguing characters and a plot that is always full of twists and turns, Bad Times at the El Royale justifies its overly indulgent ways (to an extent). So, let’s dive deeper into the offerings of this film and see if it’s one that you’ll want to see.
The El Royale – a hotel that sits on the border between Nevada and California – is a hotel where its heyday has come and gone. Now, seven strangers – all who harbour dark secrets – find themselves trapped at the hotel and in for a deadly night full of revelations and consequences.
The indulgent nature of Bad Times at the El Royale is both a blessing and a curse for the film. In the beginning, the film can feel a little meandering and as if scenes are dragging on a little longer than they need too. This can make the already long film (it clocks in at 141 minutes) feel longer. This all then feeds into a pace that is very slow and will undoubtedly not hold the full attention of every audience goer. There were certainly one-or-two times where I noticed my attention had drifted – only for a second, but it did drift.
Goddard’s script is undoubtedly great. The layered dialogue that draws you in. The characters who are constructed so well and are a joy to watch – and I’ll be diving into these qualities more in a moment. But what is clear is that some of it could have been trimmed down (in some cases completely cut) and the film would have had a pace to it that’s not only more forgiving but would’ve strengthened the qualities to the film that still make it so good.
From what you’ve read so far, it might sound like I didn’t really enjoy my time with Bad Times as the El Royale, but that’s far from the case. Yes, there were times where I struggled with the films crawling pace or what sometimes felt like a lack of focus, but I want to stress that these issues ended up all being worth the hardship, because once the film overcame them or got to certain outstanding moments that had me completely hooked… well… its was all certainly worth it!
What keeps drawing you further and further into this film is both its plot – which is full of mysteries that you’re eager to discover the truths to – and an eclectic selection of characters who all bring their own unique dynamic to the film, and are bolstered by some brilliant performances (minus Dakota Johnson who mostly seemed to stare blankly at people in scenes).
As Bad Times as the El Royale progresses it constantly keeps its plot developing. It doesn’t let it stagnate. Now it does take a little time to get there (as I mentioned a moment ago with the pacing issues), but it never disappoints with the revelations it throws at you. As each twist unfurled and each turn straightened out, something within a character’s motivation or something sinister hidden within the hotel would become clearer to see and understand. It would not only further my desire to learn more about the revelations, but it would continue to expand the engrossing quality of the film. I have to say, it’s quite remarkable what writer, director Drew Goddard achieved, because Bad Times as the El Royale is a film that is close to veering off; losing its focus entirely and subsequently losing the attention of we the audience. It’s a very shaky balancing act that Goddard employs, but it pays off… thankfully.
However, Goddard’s work was slightly hampered by the marketing, which in my opinion gave away crucial elements of the plot. I knew some characters secrets long before they were revealed, and that’s because the trailer gave them away. I know that my time and experience with Bad Times at the El Royale would have been even better had these elements not been spoiled for me. It’s in no way the fault of Goddard and his team, so it’s a shame his film was affected in this way. Still though, it thankfully doesn’t ruin the film – at least not for me anyway.
So the plot keeps moving forward, it keeps throwing up reasons for why you should want to follow it along to the next development in the story and none of that could be achieved without the support of some brilliant characters.
Goddard plays it smart with his characters and how he gets us to invest further in them. He introduces them but gives each of them a little nugget of something that makes you ask a question(s). That little nugget grows into more questions and those questions receive answers that both satisfy and then further your want to continue following their stories. Through the aid of flashbacks (something I’m not usually a fan of but it works well within the context of this film) that help to give us a clearer and more defined understanding of what events led each character to the El Royale, and subsequently influence their actions when there.
And helping Drew Goddard with the intriguing characters he wrote are some fantastic actors who bring his multi-layered lines of dialogue to life. The actor who stood out the most for me was the charmingly brilliant Jeff Bridges. There’s something so welcoming and endearing to his character and that big Jeff Bridges smile helps with that. But there’s also a significant amount of sadness to the character and it’s those emotionally filled eyes of Jeff Bridges that we get to explore that aspect of the character. I loved every second that I got to spend watching him do what he does best, for a character who completely had my affection and attention.
But it’s not just him who shines. Jon Hamm steals the show in the beginning with an introductory scene that pops with delighting energy. It’s the most fun I think I’ve seen him have with a character. He just fully gives himself over to being a man who talks a lot, doesn’t care who he insults and has a total blast while doing it.
Cynthia Erivo offers both a beautiful array of songs and a no bullshit attitude that makes a particular speech near the end of the film that is particularly satisfying. She’s a person who’s been held down much of her life and seeing her put a megalomaniac with a god complex in his place was joyful to watch.
And speaking of a megalomaniac with a god complex, Chris Hemsworth delivers one of my favourite performances I’ve ever seen from him. Again, he looks like he’s having so much fun playing the character, and it’s a performance that makes me now want to see him take on more antagonistic roles. His physical presence and unnerving stares of anger make him someone who’d thrive as a villain, rather than always playing the hero.
I don’t think (know) if Bad Times as the El Royale will be a film that works for everyone. I fully understand that the issues the film has – issues that I was able to ultimately overcome – will be issues that make their experience with the film a negative one. But for me, my time with Bad Times as the El Royale was well worth it. I loved the richly diverse characters, I loved the story that always had me guessing and eager to learn more of its mysteries, I loved its style and I loved how it brought it all to a satisfying conclusion.
And so, I am definitely going to recommend, Bad Times as the El Royale. The issues will undoubtedly bother some people and may even cause them to not like the film, but I think there’s a lot to this film to make it an enjoyable watch. I hope you see this film. I hope Drew Goddard gets the chance to write and direct another film, and I hope if you do see this film, you enjoy it as much as I did.
So what did you think of Bad Times at the El Royale and my review of it? Please let me know in the comments section down below. Like what you read? Feel free to follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. I’ll end my ramblings now by offering you my heartfelt thanks. Thank you for coming to my wee blog and reading my review, I appreciate it so much!