A stylish crossover between a Tarantino pulp movie and an atmospheric Twin Peaks episode, Bad Times at the El Royale features smart writing, a stellar cast and enough twist and turns to make even the most sophisticated moviegoer feel dizzy. It's a criminally underrated flick, and one to watch closely, until the credit rolls.
Bad Times begins, in true Neo-Noir fashion, with a few strangers arriving at a remote location - the El Royale hotel, just on the border between California and Nevada. If the setup seems quaint - with a priest, a salesman and a nervous lobby boy exchanging pleasantries in a well lit and beautifully decorated hall - the interaction between them quickly picks up, and as more and more figures start arriving at the El Royale, it becomes clear that most of our characters will never leave the hotel alive.
This is an incredibly smart movie, with great dialogue and fantastic twists - so to say anything more about the cast, characters or story would be to really spoil the viewer's pleasure. The cast, in particular, is absolutely amazing - Jon Hamm turns it up to 11 as vacuum salesman Laramie Sullivan. Jeff Bridges as Father Flynn is also a sight to behold - it's been a few years since Bridges delivered a noteworthy performance; but El Royale is clearly the most fun he's had in years, and he absolutely delivers both on the lighter moments and on a couple of incredibly emotional scenes. And yes, Dakota Johnson as loving sister Emily Summerspring finally shows she can act beyond the limitations of the 50-shades franchise she's been part of for the last few years.
But it's the newcomers here who absolutely steal the show. Cynthia Erivo is consistently great as the powerful and resourceful protagonist Darlene Sweet; not only that, but she delivers a couple of incredible dialogue pieces (especially towards the end of the movie) which will leave you absolutely speechless. And Lewis Pullman, as hotel boy Miles Miller, plays a character so incredibly full of surprises in both writing and delivery in such a brilliant manner that you can absolutely be certain of his upcoming meteoric rise to the group of A-list actors who absolutely rule Hollywood.
Bad Times is a movie that simply got released at a wrong time. The passion project of a relatively unknown director, pushed out with very little fanfare and together with a roster of incredibly popular contenders such as Venom, A Star is Born, and First Man, Bad Times at The El Royale kind of got lost in the shuffle.
Which is an incredible shame, as this is one of the smartest movies of 2018, and definitely worth a watch. I can't talk about the characters without spoiling the story, and I can't show the best sequences without giving away the ending; so just take my word for it: to pass on a viewing of Bad Times at the El Royale would be absolutely criminal for anyone who likes beautifully made, tightly coreographed and beautifully shot character studies. It's smart, fun, surprising and constantly unexpected; it's better than most Tarantino movies, and in fact better than most movies in 2018: and yet, it slipped under everyone's radar.
But not anymore. You know what you should watch this weekend - and if you're still unconvinced, well -