16th Oct2018

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan, Shea Whigham, Mark O’Brien, Charles Halford, Jim O’Heir, Alvina August | Written and Directed by Drew Goddard


Drew Goddard finally returns to the director’s chair, after his highly inventive and successful directorial debut with the horror/comedy The Cabin in the Woods shot him to critical acclaim. A multitude of failed superhero projects followed and failed, as well as passing the directors chair on The Martian to Ridley Scott has finally put him on the right path of original treatments and the six-year wait has been worth it.

The Cabin in the Woods and Bad Times at the El Royale take a lot of clues and story beats from one another. The easiest and most obvious is that of the scenario and plot. A mystery is afoot and something is afoul. However, the more engrossing and engaging aspect of Goddard’s works is that he once again puts to good use the effectiveness of playing against character type and the forward ever evolving humanity to his screenplays. No matter the ordeal of consequence, success is always found in writing and evoking a sense of reality and humanity in that of any character. Here Goddard manages to put forth that in some of the evilest and horrifying moments of the character collective. A rather neat and savvy approach to also create a highly atmospheric and tense debate on screen with no clear or proclaimed protagonist and antagonist.

Bad Times at the El Royale is exquisitely captured in a vivid and warm manner by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who creates a fabulously inviting and engaging visual spectacle. In particularly the films opening long shot that just about gives you everything you need without saying anything at all. Or the use of the camera throughout that manages to seemingly place itself in the same confusing state as the audience itself.

Yet, with the positives, the negatives are here. Firstly, why on earth this was deemed to be so secretive and protected is quite frankly ridiculous. Producers had to read on locked tablets and a screenplay ever so shrouded in mysticism may play well on paper but does very little here on camera. While intriguing and inviting the twists and turns do leave a little to be desired. Eventful and effective, yes, but remarkable and undetectable they are not. Although the film does leave a few ideas and theories open to its audience. The film itself does little to impose such and unfortunately what you see is what you get.

In terms of performance, Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo are the standouts here. The latter unequivocally steals the thunder with an engaging and fabulous role that has weight, meat and a beautiful dose of feministic attitude. Dakota Johnson is wasted here, made all the more painful with such an integral role and a clear appetite for the material at hand. That being said it is without a doubt Chris Hemsworth who lets the side down here and here lie the clear borders of where his range lies. Everything he says or does feel like a rendition of a Tarantino-bit, going as so far as an imitation or parody of sorts. Miscast for sure but even screen presence of a built character feels forced and lost.

Bad Times at the El Royale is in cinemas now.


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