Give in to the ridiculous thrill of Bad Times at the El Royale

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By Sára Neužilová, Third Year Theatre and Film

Bad Times at the El Royale may not be a classic film noir, but Drew Goddard’s is a fun, playful take on an ageing narrative.

To set the scene, a once flashy and stylish hotel is now more of a ruin. Four guests enter, a priest (Jeff Bridges), a soul singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) and a femme fatale (Dakota Johnson), welcomed by a quirky bellboy (Lewis Pullman). What could go wrong?

The answer is everything. In Bad Times at the El Royale, director Drew Goddard, takes the all-too-familiar film noir genre - that to an extent has grown old fashioned - and turns it on its head. El Royale is a casino and motel on the border of California and Nevada. The state line runs right through the main lobby; gambling is allowed on one side, drinking on the other. El Royale is like a purgatory, in two places at once yet nowhere at all.

Youtube / 20th Century Fox

The first encounter between the characters is amusing, but not particularly funny. It earns a quiet chuckle, but no more. El Royale is the perfect setting for a traditional film noir, its aesthetics are on point, yet the film does not conform. The characters are too generic early on to be played by such acclaimed actors, and the audience senses from the beginning that there must be more to them than is visible at first glance.

Goddard uses tropes so typical for film noir, but by not fully developing them he keeps us alert and aware of the nature of the genre. The film goes on to explore the heavy veil of morality, and makes you question your own stance. By not confronting to the ‘norms’ of film noir, Goddard has the opportunity to send his characters whichever way he so pleases to.

Twitter / @ElRoyaleMovie

There are moments in the film that simply cannot be taken seriously, lending the Bad Times at the El Royale, a certain sense of rising above the idea of genre film. The whole persona of Billy Lee (Hemsworth), even though he is clearly based on real life cult leaders such as Charles Manson, is ridiculous; he is no more than a barefoot hippie with a power complex. The characters are definitely not the most shocking in history - we have all met dozens like them before. Previous iconic characters have been better looking and more likable than the ones here, but the storyline elevates them beyond expectations.

To amplify his characters, Bad Times at the El Royale is told in episodes. With the same scenes explored from different perspectives, the audience experiences the story from all possible angles. The episodic approach allows Goddard to give each character an extensive back story. We see how and why each of the characters comes to check into the ruin that is El Royale. It is a concept that is beneficial to the story when it begins, but it gets tiresome quickly, and Bad Times at the El Royale could do with being shorter, with a running time of just under two and a half hours.

Twitter / @Slate

Bad Times at the El Royale, even though filled with big names is not the most approachable film, but it is enjoyable once you accept that not everything needs to be taken seriously. Simply let go and get sucked into the story. It is the cliched aspects of the film, easily derided, that actually make it the gem it is. It is with great brilliance and genuinity that Goddard creates an exciting thriller adequate for the post-Tarantino era.

Featured Image: IMDb / Bad Times at the El Royale / Twentieth Century Fox


Will you be drinking or gambling on the success of Bad Times at the El Royale?

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