Strangers, secrets, violence, stolen money, 60’s setting, redemption, psychopathic cult leaders, soul singers and an incriminating film reel – All of this sounds like the components of a new Tarantino picture. And that is exactly what Bad Times at the El Royale is so desperately trying to be. Instead it’s a violent single location ensemble thriller from writer and director Drew Goodard.
Seven strangers, each with secrets, meet at the El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark secret of its own on the boarder of both California and Nevada. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption, that is before everything goes to hell. The film starts with immense promise and is shot with spunk and speed with a nice touch of 60’s Hoover/Nixon paranoia. The cinematography, editing and sound design are without a doubt the highlights. This leads us to the story which is where the film does sadly check out early. In a failed attempt to intrigue the audience we are left unsatisfied. It doesn’t have the random pulp fiction stories and characters that make it interesting enough to forgive the tonal misstep. On the other side, it doesn’t have the complex narrative to warrant the build-up, with an ending far too “neat” for the proceedings. All that being said, it’s funky and fashionable enough, it just needs an adrenaline shot to push us through, as the picture drags heavily.
The cast are all interesting and pull of good performances across the board. Jeff Bridges is one of the most reliable actors working today, consistently turning out a great performance and here is no exception as his Priest Father Flynn is given the most nuance and heart. Datoka Johnson as the Femme Fatale trying to save her sister is the another stand out. Unfortunately, when the shirtless Chris Hemsworth shows up as the third act big bad it jars the film into an awkward turn that doesn’t quite sit right.
Bad Times at the El Royale isn’t all bad, it’s fun and funky. It is a thrilling 60’s noir? We are as unsure as the film is.
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