In a world of sequels and prequels and franchises it’s nice to sit down to a movie sporting a confusing, cumbersome title and having zero expectations going in. There’s something about not knowing what to expect or even the characters you’re about to interact with. Those simple aspects of moviegoing have taken a back seat, especially in the comic-book-movie-laden summer.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” has enough intrigue, with Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”) directing, and a dynamite cast to sell tickets. However, it’s the story, which sprawls nearly two and a half hours, that is the real reason to love this movie. The name recognition of the cast and crew get you in the door, but the story is what makes you stay.
I was enthralled with Goddard’s imaginative screenplay. He’s created fictional bi-state hotel named the El Royale that sits half in Nevada and half in California. It’s these little details that provide a richness to the overall production.
Goddard’s noir vision pits seven strangers together at this hotel. Each one of them has a secret, but the hotel has secrets too.
The story is told in chapters, much like a Tarantino film. Each chapter reveals a little bit more about the mystery, the hotel, and the eccentric people populating it. Telling a story from varied viewpoints allows the audience to slowly piece together what’s going on without being led by the hand to the conclusion.
A similar movie, “Identity” uses this same noir motif and rainy motel setting to create an intriguing who-dun-it mystery. The same can be said for this film.
Goddard masterfully weaves each chapter together providing tantalizing morsels of information as we go, but also fleshing out his characters into real humans. I was impressed with the backstories given to each character and how past actions influence current decisions. Everything is connected.
I debated listing out each character and running through the ways their lives intersect with the others, but this is a movie that the less you know about it the better.
It’s a tantalizing mystery with impeccable period set design and a noir ambiance I haven’t felt for a long time. It goes from being an adult version of “Clue” to something much more sinister. Even when you understand what’s going on you’re not quite exactly sure how it’s going to play out. And isn’t that exactly what you ask from a mystery? Don’t telegraph your ending, instead let me experience it. That’s just what “Bad Times at the El Royale” does.