“Bad Times at the El Royale” was written and directed by Drew Goddard and stars Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and Lewis Pullman. The film is about a group of strangers who meet at the El Royale hotel, where various people have secrets that get every person in the hotel into trouble that can cost them their lives.
Goddard’s first directorial effort “The Cabin in the Woods,” remains one of my favorite “horror” films of this decade, and proved to me that Goddard may be one of the most creative minds working in film. So, moving into his next project, I was incredibly excited, and the trailer only got me more thrilled, with a superb cast and premise that had loads of potential.
This film is driven on its characters, and they are easily the most exciting part of the plot of this movie. Seeing the way Goddard interweaves many of these characters, and the style in which he uses backstories and time jumps consistently had me intrigued for where the movie was going next. They don’t always work with flying covers, but they always had my mind searching for the next resolution.
Since the characters drive the film, the performances of many members of the cast were able to stand out. Bridges’ turn as Father Flynn was my favorite of the group, as the veteran actor brings the most mystery, and has the most to say throughout the movie, which led me to always care the most about his character. Similarly, I loved Hamm’s role for many of the same reasons, as his motive and actions always had me curious. There’s one scene with Hamm in particular where he finds a whole lot of undiscovered plot points that was the best moment in the entire film.
Johnson, for how much I absolutely hate her in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, is actually very good here. The dynamic she holds with another character was very interesting, and she also manages to make an impact in every scene she is a part of.
Every performance in the film was strong, but it was a lot of the writing early on that made it work so well. Goddard takes his time developing the story through the first half, and it makes for a movie that always feels a tad uneasy, and goes at a methodical pace enough to never feel boring. All the characters are interesting, and the format in which we learn new information kept me on my toes for much of the first two acts.
Unfortunately, though the movie never totally falters, “Bad Times” isn’t quite the spectacular film I was hoping it would be. With a first half full of intriguing pieces, I expected a third act that would totally blow me away bringing them all together. Instead, not much gets all that resolved, as the film rushes along in it’s final third to a finale that just never became as interesting as I had hoped.
As soon as Hemsworth’s character comes on screen, the movie begins to decline, which is strange considering Hemsworth gave one of my favorite performances. Still, the movie around him begins to collapse, and I was not a fan of where the movie went.
Pullman and Erivo both give strong performances, but I have issues with both of their characters. For Erivo, her singing is pretty strong, yes, but it’s too prevalent in the movie because, as Hemsworth’s character says, “I’ve heard better.” Pullman is actually great almost the entire way through, but a late revelation with his character was something that felt totally unnecessary to me, and took away from the final moments of the film.
At 141 minutes, of course “Bad Times” is a little too long, but oddly enough I enjoyed all the patience and slow build of the first two acts, and disliked the rushed finale, so I can’t say the time was really that absurd. Still, I think it comes as more of a pacing issue, with more time needing to be allotted to close out the movie.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” has a great opening half, with a ton of intriguing characters and solid performances all around, it just can’t quite stick the landing. There’s a lot to like here, but not enough to love, and though I enjoyed most of my time in the theater, I still feel a bitter taste in my mouth about how much this movie could have been. Sometimes the film comes off as a “Hateful Eight” rip-off, but as it is, “Bad Times” is a good time overall, just not the spectacular Oscar-caliber film I was hoping for.
What did you think of “Bad Times at the El Royale”? Comment below with your thoughts.