Drew Goddard brings a fantastic thriller to life in Bad Times at the El Royale that captures the zeitgeist of the ’60s amongst dwindling McCarthyism and the burgeoning sexual revolution. Some of the films greatest influences can be observed within the plotting that is reminiscent of Tarantino, and the deceptive and symmetric camera work that is a mix of Kubrick and Anderson. Even with the incredible backdrop of retro-stylings of the titular motel, there was an intimacy in the presentation that draws the audience in similar to a stage production.
The whole cast—veritable veterans of the art like Jeff Bridges, type-casted actors like Chris Hemsworth, and relative newcomers like Cailee Spaeny—present characters with depth and secrets that are shrouded in mystery. The result is an awesome character driven plot that keep the audience guessing and wondering how any of the characters will escape the hell that they’ve either been drawn into, or created for themselves. The portrayals present man-made evil, damnation, and redemption while leaving viewers with a glimmer of hope through the bond of mutual trauma.
As the film starts to show what led the individual characters to come to the El Royale, the overarching mystery begins to unravel while giving audiences a chance to sympathize with most of the personalities on display, even to the loathsome Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth). Two characters stand out in particular: the lost and talented singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), and the haunted escapist Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). Both characters are relateable in their search for their own way and to find solace with the hand life has dealt them.
While this is a glowing review of the film, that does not mean it has escaped a few minor nit-picks. A few segments of the stock footage used to ground the film in the time setting give the impression of ham-handedly inserting political views that seem inescapable. While they do serve their purpose in grounding the story as a whole, they seem to be almost pleading with the audience to hear the characters out. Past that, there is a moment in the final act that comes across as a dues ex machina when one character suddenly reveals their past and seemingly flips a switch to a whole new version of themselves.
Nit-picks aside, I don’t think I could recommend this film enough. If I had to summarize the film for someone in a succinct manner without giving too many spoilers: “This is The Hateful Eight done right!” All the characters are given their chance to tell their story without any one of them being overshadowed by the others.