Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Bad Times at the El Royale
Director: Drew Goddard
Writer: Drew Goddard
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Nick Offerman, Xavier Dolan, Shea Whigham, Mark O’Brien, Charles Halford, Jim O’Heir
Seen on: 22.10.2018

The El Royale is a run-down motel literally straddling the state line between Nevada and California. Most of the time, it’s empty now, with a single night clerk, Miles (Lewis Pullman) enough to handle all the guests. But on this particular night, there are more guests than usual – and they are all here for their own unstated purposes: Father Daniel (Jeff Bridges) is looking for something. Darlene (Cynthia Erivo) wants to make her career as a singer. Laramie (Jon Hamm) is a vaccuum salesman on the road. Emily (Dakota Johnson) is running from something. As the guests bring their own story to the motel, things get more and more complicated.

Bad Times at the El Royale obviously tries to be a film in the vein of Tarantino’s best, but while a lot of the right ingredients are there for that, the film doesn’t really come together and starts to fall apart more and more the longer it lasts.

The film poster showing a montage of the main characters atop an image of the motel El Royale.

We all know that Tarantino has quite a few trademarks in his storytelling – the various narrative threads coming together, not necessarily in chronological order; the focus on dialogue; the reference to old B-movies; blood and gore; and so on. Now, Bad Times at the El Royale is not a straight-up copy of a Tarantino film, but it is obvious where it took its inspiration from. The thing it, Goddard seems to just call on Tarantino films and not the films Tarantino calls on in turn, making the entire thing feel a little shallow maybe.

But on the narrative level, the film hits pretty close to the mark of what makes the Tarantino classics classics in the first place. Especially the way it sets up the stories and introduces the characters works like a charm. You get a good sense of all of the characters, plus it feels like the cast really had some fun with all of them.

A catholic priest (Jeff Bridges) pushing a young man (Lewis Pullman) against a wall.

But once the film really gets underway, it starts to stumble. It feels increasingly long, and especially once Chris Hemsworth enters the scene in what was supposed to be the big showdown, it completely fell flat for me. I just didn’t really care and Hemsworth did not really sell me the character either.

The biggest discovery for me in the film was Lewis Pullman who was simply fantastic. His performance was astounding and his character arc the one thing that really got an emotional response from me. And the soundtrack was nice, too. Other than that, my interest in the film constantly decreased as it went on, leaving me with a very lukewarm reaction to it overall.

A young woman (Cynthia Erivo) coming in from the rain, drenched from top to bottom.

Summarizing: starts off strong, then falls apart.

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