A certain kind of self consciousness is expected from Drew Goddard ever since he directed and wrote the ultimate self referential horror sci-fi mashup The Cabin in the Woods. Six years later his second writing-directing attempt, Bad Times at the El Royale is a self assured chamber noir about seven strangers mysteriously brought together at a hotel that straddles the California-Nevada border. It is part Lynchian inspired atmospherics and part Tarantinoesque stylings and plot.
All the characters have hidden loyalties, motives, enough shading and tragic back story to gather a good cast of characters actors (Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth are the marquee stars) willing to work lower than their usual salaries for a chance to act the heck out of Goddard’s story beats, misdirections and threats. El Royale is the best acted and stylish movie of the year.
Goddard wisely drops plot beats (via untimely character deaths) that don’t work or expire past their time. The El Royale’s voyeuristic substructure and mysterious silent partners are disappointingly under developed, existing as mere plot atmospherics.
El Royale is overstuffed with 1960s stylings and references yet remains spectacularly on point. All the Motown songs, Manson shadings, PTSD Vietnam hysterics and J. Edgar Hoover paranoia point to an era statement that remains tantalizing out of reach.
Bad Times at the El Royale is Drew Goddard’s good time marvel.