Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson
15 Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale is an ensemble thriller with flourishes of violence: prolix and theatrical in the manner of Tarantino, complete with flashbacks, rewinds and POV-shifts. Like a lot of Goddard’s work – from Cabin in the Woods in the cinema to his scripts for Lost on TV – it’s an ingenious puzzle with phased character revelations, but this film promises a bit more than it delivers.
The setting is the El Royale, a motel straddling the Nevada/ California border in the late 60s, now low on clientele and rapidly becoming a museum of its own uninspected kitsch. Four customers show up: elderly priest Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), lounge singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), loudmouth salesman Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and moody hippy chick Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). This uneasy quartet, each nursing a secret, is confronted with the motel’s nerdy bellhop, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman); he too has a secret, as does the establishment.
It’s an intriguing-looking film, drenched in the paranoid style of 60s American politics. The El Royale’s retro weirdness gives it a haunted-house kind of fascination. Yet for all its twisty unexpectedness, it doesn’t deliver a satisfying denouement.
The performances in Bad Times are interesting. However, Bridges has a reliably granite presence; merely by being in a movie, he appears to lower its centre of gravity, making it stronger, surer. Erivo gives the film a certain much-needed sweetness. PB