2012, the year Drew Goddard made his directing debut with The Cabin in the Woods, which is one of my favorite horror movies and my favorite horror-comedy. It managed to combine humor and horror in a fun, creative romp. Six years later, Bad Times at the El Royale had its first trailer released and it was amazing! It had style, it had mystery, it had comedy, it even had an open-shirt Chris Hemsworth dancing menacingly toward the camera.
It had everything. I tried to stay away (in vain) from other trailers over the next 4 months, only seeing one brief trailer which gives something away about Jon Hamm’s character. When I finally saw Bad Times Thursday night, I was extremely excited, especially after seeing the great score it had received on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Two hours and twenty minutes later, I walked out and… well, let’s discuss.
To start off, and I know I’ve said this two reviews in a row, but the best thing about this movie is just how good the performances are. Now, they aren’t quite Thoroughbreds good, but they are certainly amazing. I can’t really even pick a favorite, but I can pick two, Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee and Lewis Pullman as Miles. Hemsworth rises much higher as a villain than his role in Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, mainly due to his character’s writing is much better here. He has a swagger in his performance that is both comedic and terrifying. His menacing control over his disciples is mysterious and menacing.
However, Lewis Pullman is the one who may receive some Oscar attention. As Miles, the lone hotel employee, Miles is a very interesting character that is given several fascinating revelations throughout the film but the performance from Pullman is very interesting. You can genuinely feel the fear from his voice and it is incredible. That isn’t attempting to discredit any of the other great performances from others like Jeff Bridges or Cynthia Erivo. It is probably the second best acted film of the year.
Another thing Bad Times does really well is it has a superb style. The way Goddard takes command of the film results in some camerawork that is truly dazzling. There is much more than just great angles and better cinematography, the set design and score both contribute to a movie with a wonderful feel that combines nostalgia and intrigue into the film. It is very similar to The Shape of Water in that regard, but while Shape of Water uses that to make an atmosphere that feels like a magical, peculiar world, Bad Times uses it as a way to add to the thrills of the film.
Finally, the last great thing I want to talk about is the characters and subsequently, the writing. As I mentioned earlier with Billy Lee and Mile, Bad Times offers a whole peanut gallery of mysterious hotel guests including Father Daniel Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, who could be considered our protagonist. We get some backstory for his character awhile into the film and while it isn’t anything that is brand new in the way of characterization, it still is fairly interesting. However, the person who is probably the closest to the lead protagonist would be Darlene Sweet, played by Cynthia Erivo, who is a character with something of a naive personality, but a strong will. Both of these characters forge a bond over the film that is something of a father-daughter connection that is somewhat heartwarming.
This can most likely be attributed to Drew Goddard’s fantastic script. The characterization is enhanced by the dialogue and the story which slowly sprinkles the backstory of each player in the story in a very Tarantino like manner. Every word of the story feels like it may connect to something down the road and it is fantastic. Plus, there are just tons of great liners, my favorite being delivered by Daniel Flynn “Sh#t happens, get the whiskey.” With lines like that and some great characters, it adds another excellent layer of depth to the film.
Now, Bad Times is far from perfect and there is one problem I really want to address. The biggest problem with the film is the runtime and pacing. Bad Times is 140 minutes, one of the longest movies I have seen so far this year. Now, a surprising amount of movies this year have felt somewhat short with extremely long lengths, including Infinity War, Solo, and BlackKklansman. Bad Times is not one of those movies as throughout the movie I kept thinking to myself “It can’t be that much longer!”
However, as I checked my watch in something that felt like it had to be in the final five minutes, there was still twenty left to go! I realized that the climax of the film, which honestly is just a group of people sitting at a poker table, must last maybe 30 to 40 minutes! I do see where the time went, as the film does spend a lot of time setting up everything in this world to make it feel believable, but it just may turn off some people who just want something of a fast-paced thrill ride.
So that is my review of The Hateful- I mean Bad Times at the El Royale. Very similar movies those two, as I both really enjoy them, as they have a great style, astonishing performances, fun characters, and are very very long. Plus, I also think that the directors previous movie was better. However, Bad Times is still certainly a really good time at the movies with its it’s fun visuals, great acting, and really intriguing plotline.