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Bad Times at The El Royale (dir. Goddard)

Image: Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, and Cynthia Erivo in Bad Times at the El Royale © Photograph by Kimberley French. Property of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation [Source: IMDB]

★★★☆☆

It’s 1968 and on the line between the two states of Nevada and California. Sits the oddball and once roaring hotel of the El Royale, this usually desolate hotel sees the arrival of a colourful cast of characters ranging from a Priest to a Vacuum salesman. But all is not as it seems and not only does the hotel hide secrets but its new guests do too.

Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman [15]

Bad Times at the El Royale fulfils its own promise of bad times. Perhaps not to that extreme but the movie certainly has its bumps in the road and struggles to find clear footing as it unravels an interesting but fatally convoluted web of stories. The colourful nature of this film, its characters and mise en scene will draw many to make clear comparisons to Tarantino’s flavourful directing. While this does hold that same taste it is something quite different and yet struggles in trying to be the same.

Through silver-tongued words and oddball locations mixed with a gritty demeanour laying under the surface, we start to uncover the mystery of this strange hotel and these stranger people. It is this that adds a more classical feeling to the picture through its ensemble cast and suspenseful directing that elevates some of the films to gripping heights. But like crashing after an immense high, its low points are felt even stronger. The plodding of scenes and the convoluted plot twisting with each other in a head-on collision with a mess equally as disastrous. What saves people from getting up out of their seats and leaving is the performances and the interesting way the characters have been written. Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo and Jon Hamm have you hooked on the end of every word and there are a few scenes that have you absolutely emerged with the world and make you forget about those bumps along the way.

It’s wanting to know more about these characters and wanting more of these exchanges that keep you intently watching. Sadly, however, the film seems to never want more than one of these characters interacting with another at any given time. Everyone seems to be alienated from each other and only coming together now and then, giving it more of a structure than it should have and strips away any kind of Murder on the Orient Express kind of feeling that would have benefitted the film greatly.

Detracting from the mystery to which it decides to give you very straightforwardly by showing you one at a time who is uncovering what and what their secret is. It’s a structure that doesn’t feel right, what would make more sense is the overlapping of detective work from the audience’s perspective, noticing someone doing something in the background of one scene for it to play out in thirty minutes time. It adds more satisfaction to mystery plots such as this. Which is a shame because somewhere in this movie is a great film, it achieves a suspense that keeps you at the edge of your seat at times by playing with expectations but it is overburdened and not as tightly constructed as it should be.

Bad Times at the El Royale certainly has its good times and great performances but its a mess of different ideas, unbound creativity and a lack of focus. Resulting in a suspenseful story but one that fails to deliver on the main attraction of the mystery, stumbling into unnecessary side plots and overblown backstories, this film doesn’t quite find its feet but it has to be admired for being a film that feels like it was made the way it wanted to be.

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