Horrorible Review: “Bad Times at the El Royale”

Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!

Bad Times at the El Royale movie poster

Bad Times at the El Royale

I’ve really been on a kick about movie trailers lately, and finally here’s a movie with a great, teasing trailer for a movie that looks like an intense, possibly supernatural thriller packed full of hairy moments and edge of your seat excitement. It was fun to watch. That’s not exactly what the film is, though, but this time I didn’t mind because even though the trailer was slightly misleading, the film is excellent enough to overcome.

Set in the late 1960s in a rat pack style motor lodge hotel near Reno, it’s a gorgeous look back at what used to be the devious underside of the rich and famous. Oh, for the quaint old days. Every scene glows with a technicolor overlay of nostalgia from the first scene, a prolog set up that looks like you’re watching a stage play set in a hotel room with its fixed camera and oversized room. This movie is all about secrets, and what you’re seeing is just the beginning of many reveals.

I’m a big fan of Drew Goddard now, who directed Bad Times, and wrote this and The Martian. He has a real knack for telling a story that is more nuanced than you might consider while watching for the first time, with lots of tricky angles and a sense of dread without (much) jumping out and yelling boo at the viewer. There is lots great dialogue that sets up our understanding of the characters who show up to spend the night at the El Royal. A couple of times we also got a near Tarantino-style long discussion between characters.

Eventually, we begin to see secrets unraveling. Some of them will probably be confusing to a young audience who not only will be ignorant, for example, of dial telephones, but how their users were spied on with the clunky hardware shown in the film. I’m not sure if it’s a spoiler to say that every single character, including the hotel, has a secret. Most of them are huge, all of them are revealed, and by a certain point in the movie I began to wait for the reveal for each character more than I was following the somewhat convoluted plot. Even the dead politician has secrets. His identity is hinted at – more secrets – throughout but you learn it’s a dead politician who went to an out-of-the-place hotel that was protected by gangsters, that the FBI was monitoring, for illicit sex.  In other words, a Kennedy. I don’t think many young people will pick up on that as well.

Or another very famous 60s character who shows up near the end. Charles Manson hasn’t been used much in fiction over the years (and that’s a good thing in my opinion) but there is a pastiche of him here that I found creepy as hell. Younger viewers may consider him over the top, but as an historian and someone with a six degrees connection to Manson I will tell you it’s a very right on performance of a character straight out of history.

Every actor is perfect in their perfect costumes on the gorgeously decorated and gorgeously shot set. It’s a perfectly gorgeous movie all around. Jeff Bridges reminds me too damn much of my brother. Seriously, they’re like twins, and I don’t like to even be around my brother. I keep expecting Bridges to be more evil in his roles than he is because of it. Cynthia Erivo is unrecognizable from her Widows role and Chris Hemsworth is a very sexy dancer.

Bad Times at the El Royale is a must see if you are a fan of movies set in the 1960s, of thrillers, of solid performances, or all three at the same time. Some aspects are so subtle you may find yourself rewinding once you’ve noticed, for example, a roundy-round of a character in front of a mirror with not a hint of a camera crew being reflected. That’s the best kind of special effects, the kind you don’t notice. See this movie, you’ll be glad you did.

LINKS: 

Bad Times at the El Royale | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

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