Good Times at Bad Times at the El Royale

I fretted that there was nothing particularly nerdy to justify reviewing the movie I saw today, but it has Thor in it, and he does this:

And who doesn’t want to see Thor do that?

And so… Drew Goddard really knows movies. I am admittedly late to the game on Cabin in the Woods, as in I just finished watching it five minutes ago after having watched my new favorite movie, Bad Times at the El Royale. I’m not given to exaggeration and fancy superlatives, so I really mean this is my new favorite movie. Sorry, The Prestige. I still love you, I’m just seeing other movies.

At first I was really irritated with the trailer for El Royale, because I thought it had overplayed it’s hand as so many movies have by showing us everything of consequence before I had even watched the film. But oh ho, not so fast. I seriously doubt that as a director Goddard personally was cutting trailers for his newest release, but whoever did knew exactly what they were doing because everything that seemed momentous in the trailer proved to be an afterthought to the actual movie.

For instance, nothing about this was given away. Is this important? I’m not going to tell you.

Not to give anything away (no spoiler alert, as in no spoilers are ahead), but Goddard manages to find a way to continue with his convention of The Cabin in the Woods of providing an audience proxy and exploring the nature of voyeurism and performative emotions. The El Royale surpasses its big brother by not only brilliantly exploring the tropes that birthed it (if you don’t think hotel movies are a thing, then you should watch Psycho. And the Shining. And Identity. And Four Rooms. And the Grand Budapest Hotel), but it also has a great deal of character development- an element that Cabin in the Woods was deliberately missing and that I blame on the involvement of Joss Whedon.

Goddard’s use of symbolism is heavy handed, most of the characters spend a lot of time walking a literal line between good and evil, illustrated here as the state line between Nevada and California. Yet somehow, you don’t feel beat over the head with this or condescended to, you just wrap yourself in the pretty and let yourself luxuriate in the decadence of it.

Speaking of decadent beauty, I would be remiss to review this movie without talking about the title character. The El Royale, like the Bates Hotel, has fallen on hard times. Unlike the Bates Hotel, it hardly looks it. Minus a few obvious clues, like a largely absent staff of one and vending machine food that made my skin crawl, I spent most of the time thinking what a cool place. I want to go and stay there. If they recreated it as a theme living space, I would be putting in my lease application right now. It’s not so much like living in the house from the Jetsons, as it would be living in a space where a person was probably watching the Jetsons on the first run through and reasonably expecting that the future was going to turn out that way.

It’s also a great place to spend the night after you bust out of Shawshank.

I haven’t spent much time on the cast, which includes leading performances by Hollywood bigshots like Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm and Jeff Bridges, and a breakout performance by relative newcomer to the big screen, Cynthia Olivo. That’s because their stories provide so many diverting twists and turns that I’m reluctant to highlight any particular thread in this multifaceted tapestry of a movie for fear that it gives away the part that’s going to make you personally go “Oh wow” when you see it.

I would recommend this movie to anyone and everyone- that loves confusing vignette storytelling. If, like me, you really enjoy spending two thirds of a movie not knowing exactly what is going on and then suspecting that it’s going to pay off in pretty spectacular fashion if you see it through to the end, you will probably love this movie. If you don’t like being confused, or don’t enjoy slowly building story development, maybe you should give El Royale a miss. I heard they have some vacancies at the Overlook that might tickle your Halloween fancy.

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One comment

  1. Saw ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ on Sunday with friends and enjoyed every bit of it. Liked the story, the setting, the mystery and cherry on top, Thor aka Chris Hemsworth dancing to Deep Purple’s HUSH! Highly recommend it to anyone tired of spoon-fed stories. 😀

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