I try to begin the new year by reviewing a film that was overlooked from the last one. In 2018, one of those movies was “Bad Times at the El Royale.”
Set at the fictional El Royale Hotel on the California-Nevada border during the late 1960s. “Bad Times” is a thriller about several mysterious strangers who for different reasons decide to stay at the El Royale, which also happens to be a mysterious place in itself.
The film is written, produced and directed by Drew Goddard, the filmmaker behind a diverse lineup of productions such as “Cabin in the Woods” and Marvel’s “Daredevil.” The ensemble cast of Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and Jon Hamm is supported by some actors who are not as familiar.
A point of interest for this movie, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but “Bad Times” has a similar premise as Quentin Tarantino’s recent film “The Hateful Eight.” Several mysterious strangers, most of whom are up to no good, are trapped in a building together. At times, this movie does feel to be a direct homage to Tarantino. Several of his trademarks appear, like the individual character title cards, an out-of-sequence plot, the sudden death of important characters and a great classic rock soundtrack.
But while “The Hateful Eight” was filled with bland characters and mindless violence, “Bad Times” is not. Here, the characters are actually well-developed. The vast majority are bad people or at least flawed in some way, yet everyone seems to have a good side as well. They are complex and can be fascinating to watch. For example, one character genuinely feels sympathy for the person she is probably going to kill. And when another character is reminded of how she committed murder once, her reaction is basically, ‘Oh, yeah. Sorry about that.’
The acting plays a big part in making these characters work. And in a movie about a group of people stuck in mostly one location, you need good characters and good acting. There is no other way. And because you, the audience, grow to care about these people, it makes the brutal violence not seem so mindless, not like in some other Tarantino productions – he is a great filmmaker, but his films have their flaws.
There are plenty of other things going for “Bad Times” though. The camerawork can be great and the cinematography is sometimes beautiful to look at.
It’s great how “Bad Times” uses its setting, making it feel ideal for a mystery thriller. It’s not just that the story takes place at a mysterious hotel. The story uses the time period itself to create a shady atmosphere.
“Bad Times” is almost 2 1/2 hours, but it definitely earns its running time. In the end, you don’t really mind. The only real flaw is that the movie can be a little inconsistent. Sometimes the characters seem to make dumb decisions and it can be distracting. These dumb decisions do appear to be on purpose as they do work for the story but it’s still distracting.
It’s not a great movie, and I hope my review hasn’t built up this movie too much. I’m not promising that you will be blown away when you watch it or anything. The acting and the plot are really good, but you’ve probably seen better. It’s just a good movie that felt overlooked from last year. And, of course, there are countless other films that were overlooked from 2018, some probably even better than “Bad Times.”
But if you want to watch an entertaining thriller with some creative and well-developed characters, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is a good choice.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” is available to rent on various video streaming services.