A still from "Bad Times At The El Royale". (20th Century Fox/File)
Bad Times at the El Royale is a creatively paced movie that unfurls a colorful array of character histories. The film, which stars Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman and Chris Hemsworth, is a truly mysterious and enjoyably dreadful experience.
The story starts off charming, then very quickly turns dreadful, before becoming uncomfortably dark and ending on a bright high note that leaves one somber but hopeful.
The film’s promotional invitation (seen below) is intentionally misleading, as is the rest of the movie, making every event a truly sudden turn.
My personal favorite performance is by Lewis Pullman as Miles, the hotel bellhop, though every performance is worthy of applause due to the writing behind each character.
Each cast member involved was crucial to the dread of knowing that only bad things are bound to happen to each person the audience sympathizes with and invests in. Chris Hemsworth’s performance is particularly notable, which turns out to be a sharp contrast to his usual kind of role, and reveals a side to the actor that nobody has seen before.
However, the movie does have its downsides when it comes to possibly making it big on the international stage. Anyone who was not before into period dramas, or is not familiar with the late American president Richard Nixon, might have difficulty catching some of the hints the movie drops. It is also a sobering experience to realize that this film is set at a time not too far back from the era we are living in now.
Some of the plot occurrences seem outlandish. But to anyone who is into American conspiracy theories, it resonates strongly along this tone, without lingering on this idea for too long or distracting from the characters, who truly drive the plot.
There is a bit of dissatisfaction with one of the key secrets of the movie never being revealed. However, this cannot be elaborated upon without spoilers. Aside from these points, other audience members present at the prescreening had other complaints.
The film definitely harkens back to the cutting used for black-and-white silent films, with jumps from each plot thread that need to be explained with title cards to keep the audience from getting lost. Due to this being a distinctly American historical reference, it might be a jarring experience for those who have never had the pleasure of seeing silent films.
While some audience members found this unappealing, the stylization of the movie was essential to the period the film takes place in. Another complaint was that the film was simply confusing to follow for those that did not understand clues, cues and red flags that note key events.
Plot-wise, there are many delightfully sudden and thrilling moments throughout the film. Though some surprises may be more obvious than others, they still grip the audience’s attention enough to ensure no amount of terror is lost when they do occur. Every moment you expect will be a gut-wrenching one, and has even more horrifying results than anticipated. Each surprise is given a comfortable and falsely reassuring long pause in order to give the audience time to breathe, before dreading the next turn of events.
Every bit of discomfort felt during some of Hemsworth’s particularly questionable scenes is palpable, but crucial to the accurate depiction of a very real phenomenon in the era.
Action-wise, there are also no punches pulled in this movie, deciding to depict some of the more shocking scenes in as much honesty as possible. However, these scenes too, were filmed with enough care not to require censorship. There will be blood, but it is just enough to instill the sense of awful reality the characters are feeling, without the film turning into an all-out slasher. Those who would expect a more hard-hitting action sequence might be disappointed, but not dissatisfied with the execution of the overall story.
The movie does not outright say that people are more complex, more deep, darker and brighter than they always seem to be. It does not need to say so — it truly shows it. It reminds us that there never is truly a place that is evil, only the people who choose to commit terrible acts; though sometimes, there is no other choice but to do so.
It is a mystery thriller, in the purest sense of the term that digs deep in the period it is set and displays all the social problems and the hot topics of the time. Bad Times at the El Royale is a must-see for mature audiences.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.