October 5, 2018

CINEMA | Good Times, 'Bad Times at the El Royale'

"Sh*t happens! Get the whisky."
Jeff Bridges Drew Goddard | Bad Times at the El Royale

The influence of Quentin Tarantino seems undeniable in filmmaker Drew Goddard's latest twisty ensemble feature, Bad Times at the El Royale, told through overlapping timelines and characters connected only by their location at the eponymous hotel on the California-Nevada border. Like a true voyeur, Goddard's film plays with the camera lurking and spying on this seemingly random collection of questionable strangers.

Starring Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo as a priest and soul singer, the unlikely pair anchor the multi-character genre piece. Each seems to have ulterior motives for being at the hotel and Goddard takes his sweet time revealing what mysterious lie ahead.

None of the seemingly random characters that populate the labyrinth of a film appear to be who they say they are. Dakota Johnson is a clearly a troublemaker in a jam with an even more troublesome sister (Cailee Spaeny) while Jon Hamm's obnoxious salesman has his own set of mysteries he's looking to solve.

Jeff Bridges Drew Goddard | Bad Times at the El Royale

Bonded together by Lewis Pullman as the troubled hotel employee, he offers a really sympathetic turn as a seemingly bland character who has a lot of trauma and turmoil behind his eyes. Goddard uses the separate characters and chapter structure to slowly bring the unrelated elements together with mixes result.

Where Bad Times takes you during the first half is so interesting and intriguing in how Goddard lets you in on the mysteries of the hotel and its occupants. Once most of the characters and their motivations are revealed, a totally out there Chris Hemsworth enters the picture late in the game. In a lengthy climatic scene that unfolds the violent resolutions, it just doesn't quite pay off.

Bad Times at the El Royale is a deliberately paced drama full of side mysteries that mines pulp genre stories to inform its characters. There's so much great filmmaking, but it never comes together and the resolution around set around Hemsworth feels unsatisfying as he's hardly the villain of the film while the bigger mysterious feel unresolved.


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