Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★½

Quentin Tarantino has got a lot to answer for.

I think the majority of people would agree with that statement, but for very different reasons. I mean it negatively, despite the fact that I would count myself as a fan of his movies with a couple of exceptions.

What I'm not a fan of is what he inspired. He's inspired a quarter of a century of pop culture reference-laden, 'quirky' crime comedies, the large majority of which have been really bad. This is one of the reasons I'm always suspicious of anything that is labelled as influential - because, to me, being influential is not always a positive thing. In fact, it's often quite the opposite.

Another effect of his films is that other movies, that are actually not a great deal like his films at all, get swallowed up in the 'Tarantino-esque' maelstrom. Reviews and reports co-opting movies into those crowded under his umbrella of influence, quite often just because they happen to be crime comedies. There's almost no escape these days for any English language film especially that sits across these two genres.

Bad Times at the El Royale is one such film, in my opinion. I actually don't think it's helped itself or been helped. A misleading trailer suggests that this is going to be another jokey, offbeat crime caper and its jaunty title doesn't do much for it either. Both of these do Drew Goddard's film no favours at all because his film is far more straight-faced and doom-laden than I had been led to believe.

Now I'm not saying that Tarantinoisms weren't on the mind of Goddard when he wrote and made this. I don't know what his intentions were with this but I also don't care. I'm just saying that I think it's doing a huge disservice to this film, and not just because I loved every single, and I mean every single, moment of this film. It was just a total fucking blast from start to finish.

I'm saying it because even if you did see a heavy influence from any filmmaker in this, Bad Times at the El Royale is far more interesting than just being lumped in with a bunch of other shit that really only exists to pay homage to something better. Its construction, style, characterisation and performances all warrant lengthy discussion and critique - and indeed praise.

I came into it concerned about the lengthy running time, but you can ignore that part because I'm always concerned about lengthy running times. As such, I'm concerned all the time these days because all the running times are lengthy. Here was a rare modern example of a film utilising its length to work at length on creating characters who constantly surprised me and made me want to learn more about them.

It is a film that's more about character than plot, and not just because there's actually no major dominant and central theme here. Everyone has their own very different reasons for converging on the bi-state hotel of former major repute, but it's how they personally present those reasons and relate to those around them that carries Goddard's film to an inevitably blood-soaked but still absorbing finale.

If I was to dig deeper and was forced to look for a central theme, then it would be a metaphor for characters caught between in a limbo between salvation and hell. Almost everyone here is teetering between the two, with the exception of the Charles Manson-esque Chris Hemsworth, who terrorises the final third of this film with an altogether different kind of gun-related roulette than we're used to. That is until Cynthia Erivo shuts down his shit with as few words as are needed - and they really are needed. He's basically just the devil, isn't he?

I can see critics and film historians writing a lot about this perceived theme in years to come, providing this film does get generally regarded on its own merits, and that would already appear to be a tall order from what little I have read. But I'm very shallow when it comes to watching films, I'm usually searching more for accessible entertainment than deeper meanings and readings.

I don't think this could have done much more for me on this front. It delivers a couple of genuine shocks, an almost perfect soundtrack and a breakthrough performance of such note from Erivo that I could barely believe she had done almost no screen acting before this. Like I say, shame about the title, but not anything else here.

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