Bad Times at the El Royale: Film Review

I was so excited about Bad Times at the El Royale – the concept, the cast and the trailer were awesome and they gave me really high expectations, and I’m afraid to say I came away disappointed.

The less you know about the plot and characters the better so I’ll keep it simple – on one night in 1969, six strangers turn up at the rundown and mysterious El Royale hotel, which sits across the border of California and Nevada and is run by Miles (Lewis Pullman). They each have a secret to hide and these spectacularly unravel in devastating, violent ways. The first guests to arrive are singer Darlene (Cynthia Erivo), priest Daniel (Jeff Bridges) and vacuum cleaner salesman Seymour (Jon Hamm), and they are later joined by the mysterious Emily (Dakota Johnson), cult member Rose (Cailee Spaeny) and her leader Billy (Chris Hemsworth). Just know that nobody is what they seem.

The potential for this was huge. It started off so strong and had such a promising concept and interesting array of characters that I expected so much. Too much. All the ingredients were there but it just didn’t quite work or deliver the action-packed, shocking thrill ride I assumed this was going to be.

The script and characterisation is decent, I loved the soundtrack and style and the film did have some moments of brilliance and surprising revelations, so I think the problem mostly lies with the structure. The film is told in chapters which focus on one character a time, and these were admittedly helpful in making us see who they really are, but they kept interrupting the action in the present, particularly Lewis’ one, which came so late in the game and during a nail-biting scene that it just got in the way of the flow.

It doesn’t help that the film is too long, coming in at 2 hours 20, probably because there are so many characters, and the pacing was too slow – the opposite of the rapid fire, violent thriller I had expected from the trailer. It takes its sweet time introducing us to everybody and getting the threads in order, but I expected the climax would be worth the wait and the arcs would come together in a spectacular showdown and it didn’t and I felt quite deflated.

The cast Drew Goddard has assembled for this is impressive, but my favourite was Erivo (who is having an impressive 2018 with this and Widows being her first feature films). She is the heart of the movie, the eyes of the audience and the most sympathetic, sweet character. Also, she has opportunities to sing and her voice is beautiful. I was also a big fan of Bridges’ performance as his character has some health issues and he portrays them well.

I felt a bit let down by Hemsworth because I was expecting this epic, image-changing performance as this cult leader but he was nowhere near as creepy, unhinged or scary as I wanted him to be. Also I didn’t think his story was developed enough, or Johnson’s. I didn’t feel like I really knew who they were.

I have been looking forward to this movie for months so I am incredibly disappointed. It’s not a bad movie by any means, it was just underwhelming and unsatisfying. Given the awesome premise, strong start and stellar cast, this had the potential to be gold, but it was simply OK.

In cinemas Friday 12th October 

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