Today, Bad Times at the El Royale finally hit theaters.
The much-anticipated film was written and directed by Drew Goddard, well known for both the 2015 sci-fi blockbuster The Martian and the 2012 self-aware horror movie Cabin in the Woods. He also created the critically praised Netflix superhero series Daredevil, and began his meteoric career as a writer for the cult classic TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In his latest effort, seven troubled strangers (played by Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman, and Cailee Spaeny), cross paths at a seedy motel named the El Royale that’s set on the border between California and Nevada, and take one last ill-fated shot at redemption in 1969.
The reviews for the new film have been largely positive. It has a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the consensus being that it’s “smart, stylish, and packed with solid performances…[delivering] pure popcorn fun with the salty tang of social subtext.”
Writing for The New York Times, movie critic Manohla Dargis describes the film as “a hard-boiled thriller with flashes of a horror but largely a statement of authorial intent,” which is “optimistically set at the intersection of Agatha Christie and Quentin Tarantino.”
But Dargis also alludes to the fact that while Goddard is well-known for playing around with cinematic archetypes, he’s not as successful at executing this trademark quality in this film as he is in, say, Cabin in the Woods.
A review in The Economist points out that Goddard delights in “creating characters and then testing them in fiendish ways (sometimes literally), ratcheting up the tension and the body count,” but that, in this particular case, “he takes these themes too far.” The critic says that the 140 minute onslaught of flashbacks, plot twists, and dead bodies, turns the film from fun to exhausting, and “sacrifices character development for spectacle.”
Writing for Detroit News, critic Adam Graham also concedes that the film is underdeveloped, describing it as “an undercooked piece of pulp fiction that could use another pass through the oven.”
John Semley at The Globe and Mail says it’s a “superficially well-constructed film” that one might feel “compelled to teach in a screenwriting class rather than truly savor.” He notes that one scene is “so desperate in its attempt to appear iconic that it becomes difficult to watch head-on.”
And, echoing other reviews, David Sims at The Atlantic similarly states that the film does “outstay its welcome with a 140-minute running time,” and that its artistic ambition is ultimately its downfall.
“There might be too much going on,” he writes, “but as the final act descends into carnage, Goddard is at least trying to say something.”
All in all—if the top critics are to be believed—the film’s strong points appear to outweigh its weak ones. However, you’d be wise remember to buy a large popcorn, because the overlong running time could make you hungry. And if you love twisted films, don’t miss this hilarious list of the 20 Funniest Things About Horror Movies That Make No Sense.
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