It’s cliché to say that a movie is like a rollercoaster ride. But there are few descriptions which would be more fitting for Drew Goddard’s darkly comedic noir thriller. Few times in recent memory have I been pushed to the literal edge of my seat while watching a film, and even when I have been, being pushed there has never been so exciting.
Bad Times at the El Royale begins intimately but grows ever bigger and grander. What may have on the surface appeared to be a tautly-wound, claustrophobic thriller quickly turned into something else entirely. Some have called the film derivative of Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, or Wes Anderson, but Bad Times at the El Royale is its own breed entirely. And it is confident in that.
Aside from contributing one of the most original screenplays I have seen in a long time, Goddard directs an ensemble cast with no weak links. Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Ervio, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Dakota Johnson, and Chris Hemsworth turn in absolutely stunning performances, and each is given an opportunity to shine. Their collective screen presence lends weight to some truly phenomenal sequences. The ones which still leap to mind play out almost entirely without dialogue, each ratcheting up the film’s tension until the El Royale seems less like a picturesque, swanky ‘60s hotel and more like a pressure cooker about to burst.
Bad Times at the El Royale is an extremely clever, riveting movie experience. I found myself immediately swept up in each surprising twist and bending turn, gasping as each new revelation was dropped on us, and at the end of the film’s epic 140-minute runtime, I admit to feeling a little breathless. Perhaps not too unlike a rollercoaster ride after all.