Writer-director Drew Goddard’s ambitious piece of ’60s pulp crime fiction takes a long and meandering road to tell a short and simple tale. And don’t expect to see much of Chris Hemsworth.
A priest (Jeff Bridges), a salesman (Jon Hamm), a singer (Cynthia Erivo) and a femme fatale (Dakota Johnson) walk into a hotel, but what follows is no joke.
The El Royale is a Lake Tahoe hotel straddling the California/Nevada border, and strangely deserted when these four guests arrive. A former mecca for gamblers and power players, it’s full of secret nooks and crannies that hint at a seedier side, not least an observation corridor – fitted with two-way mirrors and wired for sound – running behind the rooms.
It’s through this hidden passageway that the guests’ backstories are gradually revealed, and a prologue in which a bag of cash is hidden beneath the floorboards may be the reason they’ve checked in.
You’ll have probably figured out what’s going on by the halfway mark, but then Chris Hemsworth’s ripped cult leader shows up to raise the stakes anew.
Having turned the horror genre on its head with the weird and ingenious The Cabin in the Woods, its understandable to expect that Goddard might do something similar here with the crime thriller. Instead he gives his interpretation of a Tarantino film, complete with measured pacing, loads of dialogue, multiple character perspectives on the same scene, and a climactic bloodbath to rival The Hateful Eight.
While Bad Times at the El Royale has a terrific cast and retro set design that’s as amazing as Cynthia Erivo’s singing voice, there’s just not enough substance to justify an almost two and a half hour running time. It may not be an entirely satisfying mystery, but it’s certainly not a bad time at the movies, just an unnecessarily long one.
In cinemas: October 11, 2018
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth
Directed by: Drew Goddard