Rated R for language and violence. Don't get too comfortable folks. The violence sneaks up on you and catches you off guard. There's no steeling yourself from this violence. A casual conversation and then, SMASH CUT! Your heart is in your throat and you find yourself vomiting violently all over the place. For those who believe that the audience brings themselves into the content of the film, you can consider vomit as part of the movie. Okay, that vomiting stuff is hyperbole, but there's a lot of sneaky violence and regular language. There's also obscured nudity. (R)
DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
"Written and Directed by Drew Goddard" is starting to become one of my favorite things to see in a movie. He comes from genre. I remember when he was on the writing staffs for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Yeah, Lost didn't end so perfectly, but I don't think that anyone is really blaming Drew Goddard for that. But the moment that sold him to me, outright and resolutely, was Cabin in the Woods. That movie felt so low-budget in comparison. I mean, it sat on a shelf forever before it really saw the light of day. (I just made the Chris Hemsworth connection between Cabin in the Woods and Bad Times at the El Royale.) Now, part of me wants to keep El Royale at a distance. I'm going to step out of my natural love for things and look at things objectively. It's a movie that screams that it wants to be cool. While I was watching it, I didn't actually know that Drew Goddard had made it. I remember hearing that ages ago, but I put it out of my brain pretty quickly. So, not knowing that Goddard had his adorable mitts all over this movie, I kind of felt like it really wanted to be a Quentin Tarantino movie. It wasn't nearly offensive enough to be a Tarantino pic, sure. But the structure and the coolness of it all screamed Quentin Tarantino the entire time. But it's a really good homage to a Tarantino movie. Let's cut all of the nonsense and just come out with it.
I really liked this movie.
It's not perfect. It's not going to be Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for me. (I want to lump these two movies together because I think Bad Times is going for the same demographic in terms of street cred.) But it is a very tight film. I know that Goddard isn't the first person to attempt this trick, but El Royale (I need to be consistent with my shorthand.) is aiming to be a movie where five different people, each with their own movie, run into someone else's movie by going to this hotel. There are five disparate protagonists, each seeming to be the center of attention of the movie. I suppose Cabin in the Woods kind of played around with this format as well, but El Royale is far more aggressive with its formula when it comes to implementing this idea on-screen. From the time we meet the main cast, I got the vibe that Jon Hamm's character was the central protagonist. Goddard gives Hamm the most clear goal. He has a time limit to do it and a plan that has to be executed. I'm not spoiling too much here, so I won't bother to bold it, but Goddard is the master of the misdirect. In an era where directors love subverting expectations, I think Goddard is the most playful of them all. Yeah, it's cheap in the long run. But in a time in my life that I watch a lot of movies once, that kind of surprise really gets me. It gets me all adrenaline-junkied and I love it so much. And there are a billion of these moments. A few of them are telegraphed, but a surprisingly low number. I watched all of the The Haunting of Hill House and none of those jumps got me. This is an action movie that doesn't necessarily have a goal of terrifying me and it got me guffawing with the release of nervous energy. To have major characters just leave the film unceremoniously is pretty great. Okay, "unceremoniously" might be unfair. But he Ed Starks us a lot. But that's what keeps it interesting the long run. Nothing is too sacred in this movie. It doesn't treat things as disposable. This isn't some bad horror movie where characters are just cannon fodder. Characters matter and you should enjoy your time with them before they potentially disappear from the film forever.
I also really like the structure of a movie like this. I've only watched it once and I'm sure with multiple viewings I could appreciate it more. But this is the kind of movie where all the disparate stories interact with each other brilliantly. I'M NOW GOING INTO SPOILERS because I find myself dipping and dodging against straightforward talk. The opening of the movie is perfect. It feels very Coen Brothers, but in a good way. I say that because too many people copy the Coen Brothers' aesthetics and rarely are they as successful as the Coen Brothers. But it perfectly establishes the tone. And, AGAIN, violence unexpected. (Okay, a little expected. But I still jumped pretty good!) But then we get a very gimmicky setting. Probably the least favorite element of Bad Times at the El Royale is the actual El Royale. Honestly, it's just the sign. Everything else is great. I love the line going through the middle of the hotel. I kind of wish that it played a bigger part with the narrative of the story. I get that there is that whole police jurisdiction thing that is happening, but that is not even really addressed. Miles gives us this whole spiel about the importance of the line and it is kind of a non-issue for the rest of the movie. I mean, it is a cool look, but it is a bit of "cool-for-being-cool". But then the El Royale does actually get cool. It's one of those pervert hotels. Those things give me nightmares. Okay, not really. But the concept of the pervert hotel is completely unsettling. The idea that someone is watching you in a moment that is considered private is more than a little off-putting. I don't even do gross things, but I don't like them. The El Royale (I've lost my focus talking about structure and now I'm focused on setting.) brings up something I often think about. Drew Goddard must be pretty pessimistic because he wholeheartedly subscribes to an idea that I've feared and ruminated about for a while. In Bad Times at the El Royale, the world is a terrible place with a few good people in it. One of those good people is Darlene, but even Darlene isn't that good. She is, after all, complicit in a crime after the fact. Also, she places a dollar value over the death of a federal agent, but I get ahead of myself. By having the pervert room, we get the notion that everyone does something terrible in a hotel room. At least, the majority of people who use hotel rooms are doing something untoward. That's a pretty bleak view. I think that's the world of the cool gangster film, but it is wildly depressing to think heavily about. What makes people want to build this world and record folks? It's not pleasant, I'll tell you that. But since I took the long way around to talk about structure, I suppose I had better discuss that. The El Royale itself serves as the framing device for structure. Like Tarantino, Goddard uses the title card to break his film into chapters. These chapters are meant to be character names, but they are named after what room the character primarily inhabits. Very cool, but then there's Billy Lee, which breaks the format. It's minor, but it gets under my skin more than it should. These stories, once again, place focus on one of the inhabitants of the El Royale and makes them the protagonist once again. I love this. Each character has a pretty rich story. I did find myself a little bored at Darlene's backstory, but that's because everyone else's backstory is extremely intense. Having a grounded drama does slightly grind the movie to a slower pace, but it never really comes to a halt, so I forgive it. Goddard gives us three answers (metaphorically) with every change in perspective, but then introduces one or two new questions. That's really fun.
But this brings me back to Lost. Lost loved that formula. Usually the balance was a little bit more off with Lost. It gave you one answer and then presented five new questions. Bad Times at the El Royale doesn't get that bad. It answers almost all of the questions. It throws one in your face. But there is one choice that doesn't make a ton of sense to me. I STILL HAVEN'T STOPPED SPOILING EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE, SO JUST STAY WARNED. Father Flynn discovers that the pervert room and instantly starts scrounging around for the film. Miles told him it was someone he knew doing horrible stuff on the film. (We find out that someone famous and dead had sex in that room.) But why is Father Flynn losing his mind. He doesn't know who was on that reel. He just knew that it would be someone recognizable. Is the assumption that anyone famous caught with their pants down would be remarkably valuable? Honestly, like his reaction is pretty intense. He tears apart the room. Well, he quickly discovers it, but he's aggressive about it. He then keeps it a secret. Well, fine. But that doesn't really play withe the rest of the film. I also have a love/hate relationships with one of the plots. Like, it works really well for the twist with Rose, but I don't love the cult stuff. Emily does crazy immoral stuff and comes off like the WOAT of the movie from the first moment that she enters the story. Why is she drawing that much attention to herself if she's actually the one in the moral right in the story? I guess you can be kind of a turd and still do the right thing, but the cult revelation kind of takes the movie to the next level. Goddard sells the cult stuff well, which keeps me on board. But it doesn't really feel like the rest of the movie. Billy Lee also doesn't fit in so tightly with the rest of the story. Chris Hemsworth, I think you are a good enough actor to keep your shirt buttoned. I don't need Thor pelvis.
But I love Miles. I don't know why Miles's story resonates so well with me. The entire movie, he keeps saying that he's done awful things and that he needs absolution. Catholic movie geeks, is Miles's confession valid? I could go into that, but I really like the fact that he's desperate to get back to the Church. It's not a perfect portrayal of repentance, but it is pretty darned good. Anyway, I actually really loved this movie. I know this is one of my more rambly and spoiley reviews, but please check out this movie anyway. I actually might watch this one again. I know that I said that I wouldn't, but what do I have going on that's so great?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.