Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale – accommodating, leisurely and unpredictable neo-noir (cinemas from Friday 12 October)

Welcome to the El Royale, a dilapidated hotel that straddles the state border of California and Nevada. You can pay extra to be in sunny California, yet still wander over the red line that dissects the lobby to enjoy the gaming machines in Nevada.

Four strangers check in for a night, each dragging a lifetime of baggage with them as well as some very individual luggage. The film’s title – Bad Times at the El Royale – refers to the past as well as the present as the flashbacks slowly reveal what has brought each guest to this remote location and key action scenes rewind to allow the audience view what happened from two or three different perspectives.

Writer/director Drew Goddard sets up the characters and the props on his neo-noir Cluedo board and over a generous two hours and twenty minutes allows the characters to wander about the property getting stuck into each other while the audience scratch their heads wondering who, if anyone, will make it to the end of their stay alive.

Set in 1969, Jon Hamm plays a vacuum cleaner salesman who is trying to unearth dark secrets that may be hidden at the hotel. Jeff Bridges is a passing priest whose lack of pastoral presence may be excused by his dementia. Darlene Sweet is a singer who hasn’t made the big time and picks up a living travelling between poorly paid gigs. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful voice brings both her character and the whole film to life when she bursts into song.

Dakota Johnson plays the fourth guest, a young woman with stacks of attitude, a distrustful nature, and a secret hidden in her car boot. While Johnson has moved on from the Fifty Shades BDSM franchise, she hasn’t forgotten how to tie people up.

Miles Miller is the hotel receptionist. In fact he’s the only member of staff at the run down establishment. While everyone and everything about this film is uncertain, Lewis Pullman’s character is perhaps the most mysterious as the audience piece together the reason for his lethargy and his role in the sinister acts he claims to have witnessed at the distressed and distressing hotel.

A couple of very satisfying jump scares spice up an otherwise leisurely narrative. There is too much on-screen sitting around for my taste, eeking out the dark tale that is never in a rush to reach its slightly disappointing resolution. This is nothing like Hotel Artemis! But good performances and a completely unpredictable plot will reward cinemagoers with an evening to spare.

Bad Times at the El Royale will be screened at Movie House Cinemas and other venues from Friday 12 October.

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