BWW Review: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE Delivers Thrills, Retro '60s Music
Manila, Philippines--Film director Drew Goddard's running time for his second thriller, the late '60s-set "Bad Times at The El Royale" is around 45 minutes longer than his first, "The Cabin in the Woods," which may not sit well with some moviegoers.
But for the more patient cineaste, the payoff of sitting through is fairly gratifying: an engaging, scandalous first half (it's a downhill--quite predictable--from here, though) and a tour-de-force performance from Jeff Bridges, who plays an aging priest suffering from early dementia, and Cynthia Erivo, who plays a struggling soul singer. Their characters, Father Daniel Flynn and Darlene Sweet, respectively, are next-door hotel guests at a once-swanky, now-shady resort hotel, The El Royale, straddling the border between two states, Nevada and California.
Not to be overshadowed, the other A-list actors in the cast Dakota Johnson, a badass hippie; Chris Hemsworth, a chiseled and cunning cult leader (who comes rather late to the party); John Hamm, a smooth-talking vacuum cleaner salesman, and Lewis Pullman, an all-around hotel clerk, all contribute to the abundant talent firing up the screen.
All part of Goddard's fanciful conceit, this ragtag group of characters lives a double life, which all the more makes the overnight stay at The El Royale, whose own dark secret is the major game changer, makes the film a riveting murder mystery experience to some extent nonetheless.
This neo-noir, produced by Jeremy Latcham and Goddard, delivers on the promise of a thrilling time at the cinema, plus an added bonus for the fans of the Tony-winning "Color Purple" lead star Erivo. A real-life soul diva, she shows off her powerful, confident singing skills in yet another music-heavy film, similar to the recently released movies "A Star Is Born," and "Bohemian Rhapsody." In the "Bad Times at The El Royale," Erivo dishes out retro hits "This Old Heart of Mine" by The Isley Brothers, which she sang in full while filming, "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers, and "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes (peculiarly accompanied by Bridges), among others.
Written by the multitalented Goddard, who also wrote the screenplays of "The Martian," "World War Z," and "Cloverfield," "The Bad Times at The El Royale" follows seven strangers who cross paths at a notorious hotel. Over the course of one fateful night, each hotel guest has a dark secret to either bury or unleash. Who lives or who dies is anyone's guess.
Although the BATES MOTEL in Alfred Hitchcock's classic film "Psycho" may come to mind, Goddard weaves the elements of intrigue (What goes behind the closed doors of the hotel?), religion (Does God exist or not?), politics (Who does the dirtiest tricks in American politics?) and redemption (Who still believes in the promise of LIFE AFTER death?) in his own nonlinear narrative. Auspiciously, Goddard veers away from Hitchcock, which may be to blame for the film's extended running time.
In "Bad Times at the El Royale," Goddard fills the screen with the period's appropriate aesthetics and sound in telling his predominantly violent story, in the same fashion as Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," with the striking use of the '60s technicolor and design sensibilities, atmospheric lighting choices, and a cornucopia of Motown hits in the background or courtesy of the fascinating Erivo. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who also shot another musical drama "The Greatest Showman," frames the scenes in a way that they splendidly pop out of the screen.
"Bad Times at the El Royale" premiered at the Fantastic Fest, a genre film festival in the United States, two months ago and was theatrically released in the U.S. last month.
Photos: 20th Century Fox