Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale – Cinematic Rulebending (Early Review)

If The Cabin in the Woods was the ‘horror film to end all horror films’, is this ‘the film to end all films’?

Synopsis: Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell. (20th Century Fox)

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, and Dakota Johnson

Writer: Drew Goddard

Director: Drew Goddard

Rating: R (United States)

Running Time: 141mins

Trailer: 

If you’ve seen any of Drew Goddard’s films, you should know that he is one to almost invent the rules of movies – he started using found footage at it’s dawn with Cloverfield, he turned a film about life on mars into a comedy with The Martian, and he shocked everyone with the revolutionary twist in The Cabin in the Woods. Thankfully, Bad Times at the El Royale is no different- this is the peak level of innovation we’ve seen so far from Goddard.

What’s most surprising about this is it’s the fact that it is being released and marketed to the mainstream – considering it strays away from every possible convention. Everything about this is almost like he’s inventing cinema – with a perfect 8 chapter structure that doesn’t get too complicated, using the perspectives of all characters in all the events that occur, and a progression of plot that ties all the characters together masterfully. If anything, this is not a film you can go to the washroom during- every second of the 140 minute runtime is not only crucial to the rest, but retains the ability to be extremely entertaining. If we are talking about the script and all the intricate plot details alone, this review could have been 5000 words long. But for now, it is safe to say that Goddard has proven to be one of our generation’s auteurs.

The list of aspects that are expertly done behind the scenes does not end! The camera work and lighting is absolutely stunning – the film uses very few cuts and the dolly shots, especially following characters down hallways, are remarkable. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey also knows how to nail a double-mirror reflection shot (no spoilers!). In addition, the production design with the overall look and feel of the hotel, the great costume design and an awesome soundtrack (which is fully played through the jukebox in the hotel lobby) does a great job with the world building and making this environment feel truly immersive.

It’s hard to talk about the characters without revealing major secretive plot points, but without a doubt, the acting here is something really special. Although they only are pretty much only present for the first and third acts respectively, Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth both give awesome performances as Laramie Seymour Sullivan and Billy Lee respectively, both taking on much different characters than we are used to seeing them play (of which telling you would be a spoiler). Although both characters were slightly underdeveloped in terms of the way they were written, these two have some of the best charisma of all. Dakota Johnson is truly badass as a southern gangster with a pitch perfect accent named Emily Summerspring. Jeff Bridges and Lewis Pullman’s characters, Father Daniel Flynn and Miles respectively, don’t have too much depth, but they are both pretty great. Cynthia Erivo is also a standout, in one of her first performances ever (with a great singing voice to boot) as Darlene Sweet.

This is a movie that’s hard to talk about without revealing every twist and turn – but once you experience them all for yourself, Bad Times at the El Royale is an innovative ride that is made to satisfy analytical thinkers. If you are one, you are in for one of the most creative films to be released in years.

Score: 9/10

*Bad Times at the El Royale opens in theatres on October 12th*

Follow me on twitter @daniel_azbel and on letterboxd @danthemovieman.

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