Putting a bunch of recognizable actors into a fairly limited area and seeing the dialogue and experiences that come out of it generally prove to make for an entertaining story. And coming into Bad Times at El Royale, there wasn't much I knew about the film, but the cast looked intriguing enough to the point that hopefully, the story met the level of the actor attraction.
Written and directed by Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), the El Royale is a hotel known for its location that straddles the California and Nevada border in 1969. The film follows a priest named Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water), an aspiring soul singer named Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo, Widows), an abrasive young woman named Emily (Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades Freed) and her younger sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny, Pacific Rim: Uprising), and an FBI agent (Jon Hamm, Tag), all of whom check in for a night at the hotel that the caretaker Miles (Lewis Pullman, Battle of the Sexes) is looking after. The film chronicles the events of a crazy night at the hotel, none of us expecting what happens next.
The film takes great care to be pragmatic about the ensemble over the course of the film; the first hour or so of the film walks us through the backstories of the guests of the hotel, some of whom definitely not who they appear to be, and these minor arc coverages all end with a startling moment or another. In fact I don't think I can remember offhand a film that was both so deliberate about putting all of the pieces on the board, letting you know what they can do, and then the film being confident enough that you're going to stay with it, and you do! On the surface, the film doesn't feel like its runtime and you want more of it, and that's a good thing.
The characters start to confide their respective pasts to one another when the appearance of Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth, Thor: Ragnarok) to the hotel. Billy is a Manson-esque character with a lot of fupa cleavage and is a hippee of sorts with a bevy of people who don't hesitate to carry out his orders, some of which are a touch violent. Things take a little bit of a turn storytelling wise with decisions that are surprising, but they don't impact the performances that much; the ensemble buys into the story being sold and puts enough work into their characters that you have connections of varying degrees to each of them. Bridges and Johnson are good, Ervio being the personal revelation with a performance that is beyond her years and beyond her character's limits, captures your attention and doesn't let go.
By no means is Bad Times at the El Royale a memorable or long-lasting flick, it's simply a fun one that allows you to marinate in character development and plot twists that haven't been delivered in ways like this before. It takes a comfortable space in your mind and plays around with the room it occupies. The performances are good and the story is different and seldom (if at all) seen, and it believes in what it's trying to do. It proves to be a fun exploration.The Blu-ray:
Bad Times at El Royale was shot on film and presented in 2.39:1 widescreen with the AVC codec. On a 4K display with a 4K upscale the film looks fantastic. Oodles of image detail like rain beading on a car window against the neon lights of the hotel looks vivid as can be. Seeing characters soaked in the rain and sitting in their hotel rooms provides noticeable facial pores, as does Bridges' beard with gray and white hairs that stand out. Colors are natural and vivid, black levels are inky and provide a superb contrast to other image elements.The Sound:
You'd expect a music-heavy soundtrack to stand out with a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and as it turns out, you'd be right! They fill the soundstage nicely and have more immersion than you'd expect. Shotgun blasts provide an oomph in the low end, dialogue is generally consistent for most of the adventure. Directional effects and channel panning are present and effective, and the dynamic range of the movie is robust the entire time. It's an excellent complement to the film.The Extras:
The biggest extra is the Making of the film (28:35) that covers a lot of ground, starting from the inspirations to write the film and casting ideas. The benefits and challenges of designing this particular set are touched upon, as is the look of and music in the film. Bridges' photo taking on set is covered and the usual EPK topics are as well, namely cast on characters, director and why they took the role, how the director works, and that kind of thing. The film's trailer (2:03) and teaser trailer (2:05) are included, along with a stills gallery.Final Thoughts:
I join an unfortunate club of people, the ones who have now seen Bad Times at the El Royale and can't watch it for the first time ever again, for the things it puts in front of you. It's enjoyable to watch, the cast collectively makes it just as fun to watch, but if you watch it again, you'll know what's coming, and it's a minor bummer. Technically the disc looks fantastic and the supplements are scant, but the making of featurette is surprisingly meaty. It's two and a half hours that doesn't feel like it, and it's a must watch.