Drew Goddard may not be a household name to all audiences, but his talent is certainly deserving of such recognition. From his sharp scripts like The Martian and Netflix’s Daredevil series to his outstanding directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods, Goddard has proven himself as one of the sharpest and most unique voices in the industry.
His latest writing and directing project Bad Times at the El Royale continues Goddard’s trend of inspired projects. Set in 1968, the film follows several strangers who check in at the El Royale, a hotel that is located in-between California and Nevada. Over the course of a night, the strangers and their respective motives are pushed to their breaking point when caught up in a dastardly plot.
Bad Times at the El Royale is a difficult film to summarize because the multitude of unique twists and turns this story takes. In the vein of Quentin Tarrentino films like The Hateful Eight, the film’s meticulously plotted screenplay is impressive in its ability to encompass a large ensemble while still painting each character with vivid detail. Goddard is also adept at crafting sharp dialogue, with the colorful lines being often quite funny or reflective. The script certainly keeps audiences on their toes, but its impressive just how much thought is put into each twist and turn the narrative takes.
While Cabin in the Woods at its impressive moments, Goddard really brings his A-game as a director. Teamed with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, the duo create a beautiful looking film, with each shot packing equal parts style and atmosphere. The 1960’s setting is also well-utilized, as the time period and its respective characteristic are woven into the film’s visual and thematic presentation seamlessly.
Bad Times features an impressive ensemble, with each actor breathing life and personality into the noir archetypes that they are based on. It should be no surprise that Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakotah Johnson, and Cynthia Erivo deliver inspired performances, but the surprise standout is Lewis Pullman (son of Bill Pullman). As the emotionally disturbed manger at the El Royale, his infliction and realism sells the character at each moment, with his character in a lot of ways being the beating heart of the film.
There’s a lot to appreciate about this film, but there are also a few missed opportunities. Thematically the film does have some interesting statements to make about morality and religion, or the lack thereof in many of the films characters. For me at least, the film left me wanting more thematically, not quite having the development to make a significant impact.
Even with its thematic missteps, Bad Times at the El Royale is a confident and inspired noir that left me wanting to re-evaluate every little detail of the film. Original films like this need more support so I implore you to check it out in theaters.