Bad Times at the El Royale review – A Masterly-crafted Stylised Neo-noir

A riveting tale of seven strangers and a motel. Lead by 60’s R&B music, incredible performances and Goddard’s extreme precision.

This neo-noir thriller serves us with the passionate vision of writer-director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) – using narrative in an effective shocking way, telling a grand story from the perspective of these curious people all leading to the combination of these perspectives with an Agatha Christie-like game.

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The game begins as Goddard confidently sits on a long-take as we meet a man who with mysterious intent hiding a bad of money in the floor boards of the El Royale – this confidence of sitting on the opening shot, gives the spectator the notion that we are in the hands of a precise and master-filmmaker as 50’s music kicks in to a montage synced to the hammering of the mystery man. Also, it foreshadows the idea of perspective as we lay at eye level in the very mirror which will be of vital importance as the narrative develops.

We jump to the 60’s, to meet four of the strangers as they all show up one by one at the Psycho-like motel. Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) who are joined by Miles (Lewis Pullman), the bellman among many other things. The characters all contrast from each other, with this sense of separation you feel the mystery begin to kick in with the comedic-yet-dark dialogue that is a crucial component of what makes the film work. Every scene in Bad Times at the El Royale has gravity, each line spoken and action done has a direct consequence proving that extreme precision that writer-director Drew Goddard has envisioned in this rich story.

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The very first scene featuring the El Royale has a strong sense of mystery that lingers through the meet-up scene creating perhaps a character like the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ or the Bates Motel in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, with the odd idea of having the hotel split into two creating a distinct enigma adding on from the characters’ own mysteries as it touches on the idea of two sides, how something isn’t what it seems.

The characters are brightly-painted in their own way, with the unconventional narrative we begin to understand and connect to the characters similar to ‘Jackie Brown’ in the narrative sense of seeing a murder over and helping to deepen the mystery and what each of these people have been doing during these rather shocking times.

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Another key element of the film is the use of music, with it capturing the times but also playing an essential part of most scenes including “This Old Heart of Mine”, used in a chilling reveal of the underlying’s of the El Royale – Cynthia Erivo’s singing is incredible and as we venture into her life we enter a world of wonder with a comparison to be made to The Ronettes and The Shirelles, a Broadway comparison would be to Carole King’s ‘Beautiful on Broadway’ the richness provided through music enhances the sense of character in the El Royale.

Another performance among the outstanding cast to be noted is of Dakota Johnson, coming off not so well received films – she proves herself in her eerie take on Emily Summerspring as her curious-mystery filled plot begins to unravel you see the depth in her eyes as Johnson gives us perhaps the performance of the film.

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Bad Times at the El Royale is masterly-crafted, driven by a shift in narrative that delivers shocking revelations that WILL make you scream in shock. The film is extremely stylised and original, with a comparison to be made to Tarantino, yet I believe it is rather petty to compare this to a Tarantino film as it follows the narrative of a few of his best films but the style is different with Goddard’s neo-noir take on the mystery motel idea backed by rather understated performances different from the flamboyant Tarantino performances in his films (It must be said Tarantino is my favourite director, but I think the comparison can only go so far).

Drew Goddard has created an intricately-made eerie suspenseful neo-noir that holds nothing back in a masterful way.

5/5 Stars

Ben Rolph

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