Fantastic Fest 2018 Review: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

Closing Night featured Drew Goddard’s “Bad Times at the El Royale

 

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B-

Six years after writer-director Drew Goddard’s big-screen debut (“The Cabin in the Woods”) comes his follow up film, “Bad Times at the El Royale,” featuring a retro-looking resort hotel and casino as a prominent character. It has a line running through the middle that appears to serve as a state line between California and Nevada. This mystery thriller set in 1969 will remind viewers of scenes from films dating from a wide era, 1930 – 60s, perhaps closer to 70s (judging from a couple of costumes worn by the hotel guests). Production designer Martin Whist crafted a lovely vintage looking set, especially in the lobby and then the juke box, oh my! It definitely provides a visual of what the venue may have looked like in its heyday and yet other areas do look like the hotel could use a good face lift.  

Of the many people who arrive at the El Royale on one fateful night, perhaps only one appears to be as genuine as they are, yet all the others try to portray someone they are not in order to hide their real intentions. A couple of characters clearly do not want to be identified, and yet a few do have surprising alternate realities. Secrets, mysteries and statements that hint of conspiracy abound, including who owns the hotel and who were some famous former “guests” of the El Royale with scandalous histories. Unfortunately, I am disappointed that the latter was not explored a bit more in the script, especially from the 60s era stories that are mentioned by key characters in the dialogue. This is not to imply that each character’s story does not work or is uninteresting. It does take time to tell all the varied stories.

The film runs two hours and 21 minutes, and perhaps Editor Lisa Lassek could have reduced the time on the replay scenes from the multiple perspectives. The pacing does not destroy the film though.

The soul-music soundtrack is fabulous with the period songs that feature Frankie Vallie, The Four Tops and The Mamas & The Papas among them. The original music is by Michael Giacchino and according to an article on filmmusicreporter.com (among other sources found), there will be a separate release of a “score album” of his music with 22 compositions.

The talent by each member of the cast makes for fascinating performances throughout the runtime.  The contributions of both cast and crew make this film worthy of your movie bucks.

The El Royale hotel manager, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman, a scene stealer), plays a mild-mannered host – that is when he makes an appearance after guests begin to arrive and talk amongst themselves. The awkward persona can be quite a character, but I won’t provide spoilers or his backstory.

The colorful ensemble of individual guests Miller receives begins with Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), the dashing salesman with a sample case that just doesn’t seem to be real. Dressed in vintage hippie style, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) appears to be on the run from something and certainly knows how to use a rifle. She has a younger guest with her, Ruth (Cailee Spaeny), but she is another story. Clad as an Irish priest, Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), has a hard time posing as “a man of the cloth” while he seeks something in a specific room. Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) is a single lady vocalist seeking a solo career in Reno, instead of the backup singer in a trio going nowhere. Erivo is cast as “Belle” in the upcoming film “Widows.” The last character to appear is Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) and there is no question he seriously has a past and looking for something he claims is his.

Don’t take my word the stories are all engaging. You have to see the film to see what goes down (and splat), as well as the showdown, including a Vegas style game that is suspenseful and completely changes the look of that beautiful hotel lobby.

To say the least, the film earns the MPAA R rating. The film is available in local theaters on Thursday evening, October 11th with the official release date of October 12th, 2018.

Source: Twentieth Century Fox

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