If you would like to read our earlier review of Bad Times at the El Royale, click here.
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
This film will definitely not be for everybody. Regardless, the pieces are here. Serving as Drew Goddard’s follow up directorial effort to the underrated The Cabin in the Woods, the film also boasts quite the cast. After watching any of the film’s trailers, it is easy to develop some sort of expectations but those who actually watch the film will be surprised. The film is arguably long, clocking in at nearly 2.5 hours, and its storytelling style will be hard to follow for some. The film is a slow burn thriller which works both for and against it when factoring its length and style.
Of course the story takes places at the El Royale, a seedy Lake Tahoe hotel with a dark past, situated on the middle of the California/Nevada border. The film followed a group of seven strangers who all had plenty of secrets of their own. Though perhaps it was because of the surplus of characters, the story never approached both the characters and the El Royale itself with any depth or gave them any time to grow on us which was disappointing. The film simply appeared to be more interested in positioning its characters to some inevitable climax rather than telling any semblance of story. This was only aggravated by the fact that it took a long time to get there and the underdeveloped nature of the characters was felt by the end.
The film chose to get to its inevitable climax by following its characters using a series of vignettes that helped to shed some light on them but most of them finished far too quickly before jumping to the next character. These characters were interesting to watch and while these may have shed some light on them, they felt too disconnected from the story as a whole. The transitions between the vignettes were clunky and so was the storytelling structure. All these pieces never seemed to fit together as well as they could have and having to go backwards just to tell the same event from another character’s perspective occasionally made the story harder to follow and added to its running time. It was also easy to grow restless as these vignettes went nowhere for the longest time, giving little indication to the direction the story was going and leading viewers to question the point of it all.
Despite everything else going on, it was never not compelling to watch. The film was quite impressive, technically speaking, with some excellent set and costume design along with an engaging score and amazing cinematography that together took full advantage of the film’s setting and time period. Ultimately, the best part of the film was the performances. The characters were perhaps the biggest casualty to the film’s over-ambition but they were always compelling to watch. They all may have been thin and underdeveloped for the most part, however, the performances across the board helped to at least breathe some life into them. Each did their best with what they had though some had more to work with than others.
Bridges as Father Daniel Flynn was his usual self. Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris Hemsworth played much different roles than we are used to seeing as Emily Summerspring, Laramie Seymour Sullivan, and Billy Lee respectively and were good but in the case of Hemsworth, Lee’s underdeveloped nature made his performance more on the cringeworthy side. The standouts among the cast were Erivo as Darlene Sweet and Lewis Pullman as Miles Miller. In Erivo’s case, along with Widows, this has been her year and she definitely made this role count and her singing voice was impressive. Pullman, in a limited role, took an underdeveloped character and stole many scenes from his more experienced counterparts.
Overall, this was a bloated, overly-ambitious, convoluted, and clunky thriller with some nice stylistic touches throughout but is ultimately saved by it’s performances. Though the pieces were there, the film could never tie them together in a satisfying way. Definitely a disappointment considering everyone involved but it’s still not a bad time at the movies, it’s an okay one.