Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bad Times at the El Royale

Written and directed by Drew Goddard, Bad Times at the El Royale is the story of seven strangers who stay at a hotel at the California-Nevada border in 1969 where strange things occur as it all lead to their own secrets. The film is a neo-noir thriller that explore a single night in this mysterious hotel as it also involved a major incident that occurred a decade earlier. Starring Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, and Chris Hemsworth. Bad Times at the El Royale is a gripping and haunting film from Drew Goddard.

Set in one day at the El Royale hotel on the California-Nevada border in 1969, the film revolves around a group of people who arrive at the hotel as they each carry a secret as they stay for the night where things would get stranger and terrifying as it goes on. It’s a film with a simple premise that play into these visitors and why they’re in this hotel as Drew Goddard’s script showcases the life of these inhabitants in small sections of the film. Among these visitors includes a Catholic priest in Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a singer in Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), a hippie in Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), and a salesman in Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm). The hotel’s lone employee in Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is also a mysterious figure as he seeks to have a conversation with Father Flynn unaware of Father Flynn’s intentions at the hotel nor the intentions of the other guests. Emily has a hostage named Rose (Cailee Spaeny) while Father Flynn is trying to find something in one of the rooms in the Nevada section of the hotel. Darlene is on her way to Reno for a job while Sullivan is at the hotel for reasons that doesn’t involve sales.

Goddard’s script would give the four principle characters a segment of their own with everyone but Sullivan having their stories told in flashbacks as it relates to their motivations and why they’re at the hotel while Miles himself is someone that is troubled as his own story isn’t unveiled until its third act. Emily’s story does involve a reason why she kidnapped Rose as it relates to this charismatic cult figure in Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) who would become a prominent figure for the film’s third act. Especially as it play into secrets of the hotel as well as the inhabitants who all have something to hide.

Goddard’s direction does bear elements of style as it play into this air of intrigue into this hotel on the California-Nevada border as if it was a place of style and glamour but there’s something about it that is off. Shot mainly in Burnaby near Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada with additional locations shot in Vancouver, the film play into this world in the middle of this state border as the hotel itself is a character with its stylish rooms and a lobby that features a bar on the California side and a casino on the Nevada side. Goddard’s usage of the wide and medium shots does take great coverage of the interiors of the hotel lobby as well as the secret hallways that feature a two-way mirror for each apartment that inhabitants aren’t aware of. The usage of close-ups and medium shots would play into some of the conversations between characters as well as long takes for a conversation to happen as it is Goddard breaking away from some of the conventional elements of scenes where he lets the camera just linger and capture the moment.

Goddard’s direction also play up this air of intrigue but also this growing air of tension that is to emerge where the secrets of the El Royale starts to emerge with its two-way mirrors as well as what happened a decade earlier where a man (Nick Offerman) had hidden something in a room as it would relate to what Father Flynn is trying to find. Yet, he is hampered by the fact that he is already showing signs of dementia as the second act has him and Darlene learn about each other as well as the former’s involvement what happened a decade ago. The film’s third act that involves Billy Lee definitely adds to the suspense and drama where Goddard maintains this uneasy atmosphere that emerges where it has elements of dark comedy where Lee bears a lot of the characteristics of someone like Charles Manson. Goddard has the camera maintain Lee’s presence but also the inhabitants who realize that this is someone of a greater evil yet Lee believes there is no such thing as right and wrong as it just adds to the tension throughout the film. Overall, Goddard crafts an unsettling yet riveting film about a dark night in 1969 at a hotel on the California-Nevada border.

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of lights for the rainy exterior scenes at night as well as the way the hotel rooms are lit from the inside and in the secret hallway as well as the look of the lobby. Editor Lisa Lassek does excellent work with the editing with its emphasis on rhythmic cuts to help build up the suspense as well as knowing when not to cut during a monologue or a conversation. Production designer Martin Whist, with set decorator Hamish Purdy and supervising art director Michael Diner, does amazing work with the look of the hotel rooms and the hotel itself as it is a character in the film with its major differences depending on what state the characters are on. Costume designer Danny Glicker does fantastic work with the costumes as it each play into the personalities of the characters and where they come from during a turbulent time in 1969.

Special makeup effects designer Toby Lindala does terrific work with the makeup in the look of Miles upon a troubling encounter as well as the look of a few characters to play into the times. Special effects supervisor Joel Whist, along with visual effects supervisors David W. Allen and Oliver Atherton, does some nice work with the visual effects as it is mainly bits of set dressing for the 1959 flashback scene as well as a few bits inside the hotel. Sound designers Casey Genton and Julian Slater do superb work with the sound in the way rooms sound as well as scenes of Darlene singing in her room and the way music is presented in the lobby. The film’s music by Michael Giacchino is incredible for its low-key yet eerie orchestral score that help play into the suspense and drama with its string arrangements and emphasis on building up the suspense with low yet heavy strings. The film’s music soundtrack features songs sung by Cynthia Erivo as well as music from the Box Tops, Deep Purple, the Four Preps, Edwin Starr, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Crystals, the Four Tops, the Mamas & the Papas, and the American Bread to play into the period of the late 1960s.

The casting by Carmen Cuba is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Charles Halford as a convict that Father Flynn knew, Mark O’Brien as a bank robber, Shea Whigham as a prison doctor, Xavier Dolan as a record producer Darlene refuses to sleep with, and Nick Offerman as a bank robber in 1959 who hides the money. Cailee Spaeny is terrific as Rose as a young girl infatuated with Billy Lee as she seems to be entranced by his teachings much to the dismay of Emily. Lewis Pullman is superb as Miles as the hotel clerk who is harboring secrets of his own as he tries to run the hotel while wanting some guidance from Father Flynn. Jon Hamm is excellent as Laramie Seymour Sullivan as a salesman who is in town yet has other motives as it relates to things in the hotel. Dakota Johnson is fantastic as Emily Summerspring as a hippie who has taken a young girl as a hostage as it relates to a cult leader she dislikes as she presents herself as someone who doesn’t like anyone as it’s a front for why she kidnapped this young girl whom she’s concerned about.

Cynthia Erivo is brilliant as Darlene Sweet as a soul singer whose career to be a solo singer goes wrong as she is on her way to Reno for a job as she contends with the chaos at the hotel as well as trying to figure out what Father Flynn is doing. Jeff Bridges is amazing as Father Daniel Flynn as a Catholic priest who has arrived to this hotel on his way back home where he is ambiguous in his motives for being at the hotel yet he is revealed to be someone that is trying to find something but also is dealing with memory loss as well as other issues that makes him an ambiguous but a person with good intentions. Finally, there’s Chris Hemsworth in a phenomenal performance as Billy Lee as this Charles Manson-like cult leader who doesn’t appear often in the film as he would play a big role in its third act where he has this presence that is discomforting yet entrancing while is filled with so much charisma that he just completely steals the film from everyone as the sight of him dancing to Deep Purple’s cover of Hush is probably one of the sexiest moments captured on film.

Bad Times at the El Royale is a tremendous film from Drew Goddard. Featuring an incredible ensemble cast, a chilling premise set in a remote location, interesting character studies, gorgeous visuals, a mesmerizing music score by Michael Giacchino, and a killer music soundtrack. The film is definitely a neo-noir inspired suspense-drama that explore a group of people in a hotel on the California-Nevada border who endure a hellish rainy night that would bring a lot of trouble and terror with the latter in the form of a Charles Manson-like cult leader. In the end, Bad Times at the El Royale is an outstanding film from Drew Goddard.

Drew Goddard Films: The Cabin in the Woods

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

I enjoyed this one too. Cynthia Erivo was robbed of a Supporting Actress nom in my opinion.

Jay said...

This was such a delightful surprise at the theatre. Always love seeing Nick Offerman though it was a quickie. Cynthia Erivo was a revelation.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I totally agree with you. Plus, I could watch her sing for hours and not be tired of it. What a voice. Especially on "This Old Heart of Mine" as it's been stuck in my head for the past few days along with Chris Hemsworth dancing to Deep Purple.

@Jay-Indeed as it surprised the hell out of me as I just fell in love with it. The film is fucking incredible.

keith71_98 said...

I've always thought this was a terribly underappreciated film. I really got into it. Love the cast and the cinematography is fantastic.

thevoid99 said...

@keith71_98-Glad to know someone else loved it as I still can't believe how awesome it was and it's a shame it didn't do better in the box office.

Katy said...

Nice review! I thought this was one of the most underrated movies last year. The cast was great, and it had a different twist on the 'strangers meeting in one place' plot that's used in a lot of murder mysteries. Cynthia really should've been a break-out star with her performance, in particular.

thevoid99 said...

@Kay-Agreed. Cynthia Erivo fucking won me over with this film in not just her singing but her sense of restraint as an actress. With this role and her performance in Widows which came out weeks after this film, there should've been more consideration for her in the awards circle as it has me excited to see her role as Harriet Tubman.