Four strangers, two states and one hotel all combine with a noir story directed by Drew Goddard. An A-list cast bring their top game here with a great story and soundtrack to deliver one of the best films of 2018 so far.
The film starts in 1969 at the El Royale which is right on the border of California and Nevada. The hotel is spread across the two states with four guests arriving mysteriously at the same time. Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) a femme fatale played by Dakota Johnson, vaccum salesman Laramie Sullivan (John Hamm) and soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo). The 4 choose different rooms in different states and the plot bounces in and around the 4 characters exploring their backstory and how they came to be at the hotel. As each character’s secrets are uncovered, the events that come as a direct result of this.
When it’s revealed that a secret tunnel containing two way mirrors to every room and sound bugs planted in them, there are some oustanding tracking shots. It is also a great storytelling tool as the camera pans from one room to the next unveiling the horrors and private lives of each guest. It feels very Hitchcock-ian and at times Tarantino-esque (not a bad thing!) it also helps that the soulful soundtrack flashes with some extremely violent and shocking reveals. Goddard handles this all perfectly.
Performance wise the stand outs here are Bridges and Erivo as they steal every scene they are in. Adding in the gorgeous performances from Erivo to the violence and gore of some scenes is some of the best shot and edited footage in recent memory. There are some great suppoting performances from Chris Hemsworth as the extremely unhinged version of the leader of a cult and huge credit to Lewis Pullman who plays Miles Millar the very creepy hotel conceirge who constantly keeps you guessing throughout the film. His story arc is intriguing and is another scene stealer, particularly when things get intense later in the film.
The production on this film is spectacular. The costumes are a direct reflection of the time with Erivo standing out in mustard skirt and jacket combos, the only question mark was with Dakota Fanning’s character who looked fresh out of 2018. Similarly the design of the hotel is stunning. It heralds back to the late 60’s era with sandwich and pie rotators, coffee pots and makers that some of us may recognise from our grandmother’s kitchen growing up. The firepit centrepieces and chandeliers are a great touch and add to the ambiance.
There are so many great films coming out over the next few weeks, Bad Times At The El Royale is the best film that you haven’t heard about yet. It is one of those films that will have you talking for days after your first viewing and I am also inclined to head back from a second screening to catch up on everything I missed. It is a wild ride with an extremely talented cast and filmmaker who know how to tell a great story and tie everything together.
Bad Times At The El Royale is showing in cinemas now.
Review by Alaisdair Leith.