Category: Upcoming Thriller/Mystery
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Director: Drew Goddard
Production company: Drew Goddard, Jeremy Latcham
Nearly ten years after filming his feature debut Cabin in the Woods (and about six years since it finally hit theaters), Drew Goddard makes his long awaited return to the director’s chair with Bad Times at the El Royale. The Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum hasn’t exactly been taking it easy in the years since, keeping busy as a producer on TV hits like Daredevil and The Good Place, and earning an Oscar nomination for his writing on The Martian, but fans who’ve waited to see the filmmaker step back behind the camera will find it was worth the wait with Bad Times at the El Royale; a clever, dizzying diorama of character drama and showmanship that takes flight through Goddard’s heartfelt script, impeccable craftsmanship from the below-the-line team, and knockout performances from his ensemble cast. Set across the backdrop of the Nixon presidency and Vietnam-era America, Bad Times takes us to the titular El Royale, a glitzy spectacle of glinting metals, gleaming lights, and patterned wallpapers split right down the middle by the California/Nevada border, and hiding a whole host of secrets behind its dazzling walls. A one-time hotspot that used to be frequented by glamourous folks like the Rat Pack, the El Royale has fallen into such disuse in the year since that loudmouthed vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) can’t even get some help to the desk when he tries to check in. Then there’s the matter of the hidden tunnels behind the rooms, where cameras and hotel management peer into the guests rooms through two-way mirrors, and which Goddard utilizes to stage some fantastic voyeuristic thriller and action beats..
In his second film as a director, Drew Goddard from Cabin In The Woods has managed to harness the energy of one of those slowed-down dramatic covers used to set the mood in countless movie trailers, creating essentially the platonic ideal of the dramatic cover, set to cinema. It’s a tour de force of tastefulness. You know the mood I’m talking about: a half-speed, dramatic version of a song you know, or kind of know, used to create this sense of eerie deja vu, familiarity mixed with foreboding and a dash of foreshadowing (at least, at its best, I’m not talking about the countless failed attempts at same, such as the pirate children singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in Pan). There was “Mad World” in Donnie Darko, and “Creep” in The Social Network, but if anything, Bad Times At The El Royale harkens back to an even earlier example, Striking Distance, from 1993, which used “Little Red Riding Hood” as the serial killer’s musical cue. That idea, of an old foot-tapper echoing through tinny speakers (see also “Hurdy Gurdy Man” in Zodiac), pervades Bad Times At The El Royale, a neo-noir set at an old hotel on the outskirts of Reno to the tune of sixties doo-wop. It’s very much a mood movie, and mood movies, to some extent, either work on you or they don’t. For me, it was almost more impressive as a virtuoso performance by Goddard than as a work of storytelling.
Bad Times At The El Royale’s thrilling 1950s prologue is a noir checklist. Mysterious man up to no good in a hotel room? Check. Trilby? Check. Cigarette? Check. Sudden and extreme gun violence that almost gives you a cardiac arrest? Double-check. It’s like, how much more noir could this be? And the answer is none. None more noir. This is precisely the point, of course: Bad Times At The El Royale is a 140-minute noir workout, Drew Goddard absolutely smothering himself in genre from start to finish. It’s the salacious cover of a crime novel come to life. Not that it is mere homage. Goddard, who wrote Cloverfield and The Martian, worked on Buffy, set up Daredevil’s debut season and directed The Cabin In The Woods clearly likes to twist convention, and Bad Times At The El Royale is all manner of twisted..