ReelReviews #131: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)


OCT 16, 2018: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)




I never see many films in theaters (probably 2-3 per year at most) and most of the ones I DO end up seeing on the big screen end up disappointing me and making me think it wasn’t worth seeing on the big screen (Star Trek Into Darkness, Pacific Rim: Uprising, etc.)   But here is a rare example, indeed.  “Bad Times at the El Royale” is a film I didn’t know much about, wasn’t too thrilled about, and only went because a group of friends were planning to go and invited me out to the show on a day I was free from work.  My reaction? “Bad Times” is very, very good.


To be clear, the film is no masterpiece, but it IS pretty solid entertainment.  “Bad Times” is a bit of a throwback movie. It’s basically one of those “whodunit?” murder mystery thrillers, so it harkens back to the kind of genre that was more popular in the 1940s than in 2018.  The film is an ensemble piece with seven strangers meeting up at a hotel on the California/Nevada border, which each of them holds a dark secret and is not the person they seem to be at first.


I watched this film over the Halloween season, and its perhaps a better Halloween treat than your typical genre horror movie. “Bad Times” tells its story in a non-linear format, with several events overlapping as see them happen from different characters points of view. Jeff Bridges and Dakota Johnson (both playing guests at the hotel) probably get the most screen time, but each character is instrumental to the story, and a surprise late appearance by Chris Hemsworth (as “Billy Lee”) really ups the stakes in this film. (I also think the actor really relished his role!)


The film has been called “low rent Tarantino” by some critics. While I would agree a lot of it does seem to be similar to Taraninto’s style (sudden shocking violence, tongue-in-cheek reveals, clever homage to older genres), I actually enjoyed this a lot more than a lot of Tarantino films, as the latter seems to be a bit more cartoonish and smug that the kind of story that director Drew Goddard gave us here.  Rather than calling it “Tarantino style” as a bit of a swipe at the film’s quality, I’d use it here to look at the film more positively.  This isn’t a direct knock-off of Tarantino, but if you like his style, you’re probably love this movie. As for me, Tarantino is a mixed bag, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film.


Perhaps the best compliment I can give to this film is I actually missed what others later told me was the “best part of the movie”, as there was a climatic shootout scene that I missed because I had to step out for a  bathroom break after being unaware the film had a 140 min. running time.  Even missing this key piece of the movie that tied all the loose ends together, I still though it was a fun movie and I still got something special out of the ending.  After I learned there apparently IS a real-life hotel on the California-Nevada border (which apparently is sadly foreclosed now), it made the film an even cooler experience for me. The Hotel itself is very much its own character in the movie, as “Bad Times” has something a lot of modern films really lack: tons of atmosphere.  A real-life attraction really ought to be built that based on the El Royale Hotel setting from the movie, it would be loads of fun.


“Bad Times” does have some flaws, and some weak spots, but none that can really be discussed in detail without spoiling the fun of a mystery movie.  This is one to definitely check out on video. I’ll be giving it a second look, so I hope you give it it a first.


*** out of ****