Fantastic Fest Review: Bad Times at the El Royale

Was it good times for the Fantastic Fest closing film?

Few films could hope to wrap Fantastic Fest as well as Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale, a blockbuster neo-noir that features just the right combination of throwback style and shirtless Chris Hemsworth.

The El Royale, which straddles the state line between Nevada and California, was once a hotspot for Hollywood celebrities and Vegas socialites. Tonight it will call home to a vacuum salesman (Hamm), a road-tripping priest (Jeff Bridges), an aspiring singer (ECynthia Erivo), and a mysterious femme fatale (Dakota Johnson), all of whom have reasons for staying at the El Royale that they’re unwilling to reveal.

Given how thoroughly Drew Goddard deconstructed the horror genre in his directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods, the straight-forward nature of Bad Times comes as something of a surprise. The film does jump around its timeline a little  – showing single events from the perspective of multiple characters  –  but the film as a whole is driven more by production design and performance than Goddard’s script.

Then again, who really cares if the story is derivative as long as the rest of it works? Aiming for style over substance is only a problem when you miss, and Goddard and his crew have created an absolutely gorgeous bit of throwback noir. The hotel itself is an inspired piece of set design: a landmark of post-war opulence that manages to encompass three decades’ worth of detective movie aesthetics in its various design elements.

Meanwhile, Erivo soulful singer is the real star of the show. The addition of Bridges as yet-another sympathetic outlaw past his prime  gives the two actors a delightful chemistry, playing out like an onscreen trust fall amidst all the bloodshed. Like an inspired cover of a Motown classic, Bad Times at the El Royale reminds us that taking something familiar and giving it your own twist can sometimes create something fun.

Bad Times at the El Royale

Texas Premiere
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Fantastic Fest, Fantastic Fest 2018, Bad Times at the El Royale, Drew Goddard

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