You had me at “I’m bored of hearing white men talk”.
Let me tell you, I fell in love with the characters immediately. I’m all for a good “don’t judge a book by its cover” story. Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman all slay their multifaceted characters – decent and corrupt, repentant and guilty. Dakota Johnson charms you with her buttery voice but Jeff Bridges is the one who stands out. He is rocking that role so hard. His performance reminded me a lot of the brilliance of one Ian McKellen. Not to say Bridges hasn’t got his own shine-bright-like-a-diamond dazzle but McKellen has been a personal idol for a long time. Point is, it really struck me. The real star, however, is Cynthia Erivo who is blessing us with a beautiful singing voice and taking no shit from no man.
Besides the wonderful acting perfomances, the visual is what bewitched me. I’m a sucker for flashy neon but also dulled colors, combined with intricate set design. The El Royale, from its lobby to its cellar, is full of its own story, its own life. A shadow of its former Sinatra days but still glowing with alluring beauty. Combined with thoughful lighting design, which is striking in its own right, added the flawlessy timed music and sound design – you’ve got yourself an explosive combination that is necessary for such a tense film. In short, everything seems thoughtfully orchestrated and you can consume the unfolding events, that cannot be prevented, with rising expectation of what is to come.
The structure and frame are strong and simple, necessary to carry the complex and tangled storylines infused by each character. Every room has its own moment, sharing past events and more information about the guests. I got some Agatha Christie vibes mixed with the Hostel and Oldboy and the framing is remarkable. When shit hits the fan, the unfolding of everything is not a civilized and dry sit-down with Poirot. No, the time is used for sharing more of their personalities, more of their pain and experiences. And a decent amount of Tarantino-esque violence leaves no carpet clean.
The social commentary is on another level: reflected in the characters, their interactions with others, their backstory, their actions and their dialogue. All the themes are embedded in the concept of good and evil. Who is to say where you can draw the line? Whether you’re in the military, a cult leader, running a casino or spying on people. And then there’s a big MacGuffin. Who doesn’t love a good MacGuffin? This movie is like a crazy little thriller/mystery book and with each page you turn, it keeps getting wilder and wilder.
A film so mysterious, the script was handled with utmost care and it has a story so beautifully woven, it would be a shame to reveal too much. We won’t rob you of the experience to find out the details of the story and how double-sided everyone actually is. Bad Times at the El Royale brings swag, horror, mystery, crime and beauty all together in this serious contender for my 2018 favorites list.