It feels as though a neo-noir crime thriller comes along only once every 3 or so years and when it does, it’s always a delight to revisit what the next modern interpretation will be. Bad Times at the El Royale represents the god damn definition of neo-noir crime. However, the lengthy runtime will most certainly test some audiences patience, it simply left me wanting more.
Bad Times at the El Royale follows the story of a group of individuals with their own motives and paths as their stories collide at the El Royale hotel. For a film that is so heavily focused on being a mystery the storyline itself sits quietly in the background of importance in this film; in this film there is far more of a distinct focus on the characters lives, their choices, and who they are as people – this aspect alone subverts as these films are generally littered with double-crosses and mind-blowing twists that become a trope that many in this genre employ. This is a film that sticks close to the stories it is telling you, it doesn’t attempt to purposefully mislead you into believing things in order to force a plot twist into the mix, this is an aspect I appreciated.
Additionally, audiences are offered plenty to think about, as the themes throughout the story echo many different social and philosophical ideologies; self-reflection, right and wrong, good and evil, and the blurry line between them all. How each character represents these aspects are done in their own ways. This was more than just an entertaining mystery, it offered more to think about, as its characters are the enigma of the story.
The performances were diverse across the board, with Jeff Bridges as a standout playing the role of the priest. His accuracy in replicating his character’s ailments place him right at the top in this film for quality and execution. We are also provided a unique performance from Chris Hemsworth as he proves his range has yet to find its end, he offers up an intimidating and charming role that is sure to catch audiences by surprise. Dakota Johnson plays her part and it was great to see her breaking through the stigma of her past performances in the 50 Shades franchise, even if her roots lie in indies. Lewis Pullman plays the role of the jumpy and peculiar receptionist of the hotel, named Miles, a truly unexpected and delightfully layered performance that constantly surprised us with turns of emotion.
It is by no surprise that the visuals were a real treat, from the neo-noir neon brightened night to the rainy atmospheric storm providing an almost biblical sense of wonderment throughout the films third act. The cameras use no doubt gives you more than you can even process, as shots aren’t just beautiful in their own right, they’re meaningful. The shot compositions and framing make it clear that extreme care was taken with portraying these characters and executing the story in just the right way; close ups of many of the characters reactions and subtle emotional responses breathes a sense of patience by this director, and it shows. Lighting in low-light environments was breathtaking, specifically as rain pours and the neon lights diffuse through it – a testament to a power of the film stock that this was shot on; Goddard uses 35mm film stock to capture this night-lit narrative. Much like the camera work, the production design is as detailed and explored as it can get, I felt as if I knew the entire layout of the hotel.
Bad Times at the El Royale provides glittering entertainment value despite its long runtime, and while it may not be for everyone, this is a film that was simply proficient at making you care about what happens to its characters and how its story concludes. I was shocked to see it is an original piece of writing written and directed by the talented Drew Goddard. Bad Times at the El Royale is anything but bad, with a stellar lineup of interesting characters to choose from, this stylish film makes you want to check-in and never checkout.