‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ Review by Ahmed Zayani
While it doesn’t fall into a specific genre, I have always loved contained films that revolve around a sprawling ensemble cast. There’s something about having characters confined to a single solitary location that adds to the tension of the film. Having a limited location can also compel filmmakers to put more love & care into the script & thus give us more rounded & fully realized characters. Such practice has been done quite successfully in the past in films like 12 Angry Men & Identity & if Studios can maintain the quality I can see films of this ilk being a favorite for genre fans for decades to come.
Directed by Drew Goddard, Bad Times at the El Royale follows the tales & exploits of seven very different individuals who all congregate on one stormy night in the aforementioned hotel where things take a turn to the worst in every conceivable way. For those of you who follow my Instagram posts (& really, if you haven’t yet what are you waiting for?) know how I felt about this film already, so in the interest of fairness, let me expand on the positives first; the cinematography presented in the film is absolutely gorgeous. While the film had limited grounds to play on, Seamus McGarvey managed to give us a visually splendid production, with him presenting us with the same flare that he precious did with The Avengers & The Greatest Showman. The performances here were excellent with the most part, with Jeff Bridges’ performance as the wayward priest with a dark past & especially Jon Hamm’s portrayal of a Southern vacuum salesman were the highlights for me (why isn’t Jon Hamm a bigger name in Hollywood is a mystery that alludes me til this very day) Many of my contemporaries have been quite vocal with their disdain of Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of the eccentric cult leader Billy Lee but I didn’t find him all that offensive. Don’t get me wrong; his performance was nothing special, but it wasn’t the miscast disaster that I was expecting either. Finally, I found the initial premise to be quite intriguing & had wished that this film was able to deliver on.
As I see it, Bad Times at the El Royale had everything in play to be one of the greatest genre films of this decade. It failed to achieve that. In fact, as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t even register as a good film or even a mediocre one. The intriguing premise that I mentioned earlier was not capitalized in one bit. Instead of having a film that captivated us with every passing minute we wound up with a heaping serving of celluloid crap that plodded endlessly. This is a two hour & twenty minute film that could’ve benefited heavily from leaving about thirty or so minutes on the cutting room floor. The film also presented us with a unique plot device in the fact that the El Royale is located on the state line separating California from Nevada, there by dividing the hotel into two unique halves. However, the film did absolutely nothing with that premise & it came off more as an afterthought. The same can be said about a plot point concerning one of the characters that was brought up & took a substantial amount of the film’s run time only to be forgotten and never brought back ever again. Also, while I did hail the performances of some of the cast, the same cannot be said about everyone. Dakota Johnson may be easy on the eyes, but she has the cinematic presence & charisma of a brain dead sloth. She definitely was the weakest link in this film (& others which she appeared in for that matter) with things coming to a screeching halt whenever she appeared on screen. I know Drew Goddard has a lot of good will following Cabin in the Woods, but he flushed it all away with this cinematic travesty. Things are so bad that I’m inclined to believe in the internet rumor that suggests that J.J. Abrams was actually the one to direct Cabin & not Goddard.
In conclusion, Bad Times at the El Royale came with all the promise in the world that it’d be the next big thing, it failed to reach those heights in miserable fashion. I’m sure there will be those who enjoy this film & hold it in high regard, but as far as I’m concerned this film deserves a hard pass.
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