Fantastic Fest Review: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE Is Exactly What We Wanted It To Be

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People are gonna tell you that Drew Goddard's Bad Times at The El Royale is a Tarantino knock-off, and, to a point, I see what they're getting at. It's chatty. It's violent. Stylish. Cleverly written. The soundtrack is great. It's structured in what you may or may not consider a convoluted way, with sequences looping back on themselves so we can see certain events play out from multiple perspectives. On a surface level, sure, these are attributes we generally associate with Tarantino.

The crucial difference is, Bad Times at The El Royale is nowhere near as nihilistic as the average QT jam. As dark as things get (and, hoo boy, do they get dark) it's an ultimately hopeful film, and it's light years better than any Tarantino knock-off you've ever seen. I fucking loved it.

This is Goddard's long-awaited follow-up to Cabin In The Woods, and it's a worthy successor. Much like that 2011 film, it takes a moment to wrap your head around the game Goddard is playing, to understand how all the pieces fit together. Getting there is half the fun, though, and when you do come out the other side you'll realize just how many details will read differently on second viewing; if I could've rewatched it immediately upon the credits rolling, I would've been completely on board.

Another commonality: much like Cabin In The Woods, it'd be criminal to discuss Bad Times at The El Royale in detail with anyone who hasn't seen it yet. This makes reviewing the film something of a challenge (the ideal version of this post is one paragraph long, with me begging you to go into it knowing as little as possible), but I'm gonna do my best. 

Bad Times at The El Royale mostly takes place in an odd little motel which straddles the border between California and Nevada. A number of guests arrive, each of them harboring a secret. The motel itself has secrets, as well, as does the young man working behind the counter. By the end of the film, all will be revealed and only some of these characters will survive. 

That's it. That's really all you need to know. 

Let's move on, then, and focus on what I can tell you: the cast (which includes Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman and Chris Hemsworth) is excellent, with relative newcomers Erivo and Pullman turning in what would, in a sane and just world, be star-making performances. Bad Times juggles a number of different tones - it's creepy one moment, funny the next, then unexpectedly emotional - and Goddard makes that juggling act look simple. The set design - a thing you might not even consider singling out for praise in 90% of the movies you see! - is exceptional, so good that you'll walk out of the theater wishing you could go visit an actual El Royale. 

Will Bad Times at The El Royale be for everyone? Probably not. One suspects that the average moviegoer might lose patience in the film's admittedly drawn-out third act, and that some folks may be underwhelmed by a few of the reveals. Whatever. For people on a certain wavelength (it me), Goddard's film will be a breath of fresh air, offering an experience that's not unlike watching someone solve a sinister, sexy riddle in real time. Those people are my people, and I look forward to all the Bad Times at The El Royale Fan Club meetings that await us in the future.

Bad Times at The El Royale hits theaters on October 12th. Rest assured, we'll be diving into it in greater detail here at the site, once more of you have seen it.