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Bad Times at the El Royale


Stars: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Lewis Pullman, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Nick Offerman

Director: Drew Goddard

It's 1976 and hard times have fallen on the El Royale, a hotel on the California/Nevada border. In fact, it's difficult to imagine why anyone would stay there. Despite its plush exterior, it has no food, apart from stale pies and sandwiches in a revolving case, only a few made-up rooms, and a staff of one (Pullman, son of Bill), who answers to the far-off 'management' (never seen).

One step up from the Bates Motel really, and Pullman is kinda creepy.

Nonetheless, a handful of people do turn up there at the start of the narrative. And, as we have seen '10 years earlier', one reason could be what a fugitive (Offerman) has hidden under the floorboards of his room just before he's shot.

So we meet Father Flynn (Bridges), singer Darlene (Erivo), loud-mouthed vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie (Hamm), tough-talking Emily (Johnson), and others, few of whom may be what they seem.

One of them quickly discovers that the rooms are bugged and fitted with two-way mirrors, from one of which Fr Flynn is discovered prising up the floorboards in his room...

Sudden violence occurs when you don't altogether expect it and, late in the day, Billy Lee (Hemsworth, flashing his abs outrageously) and his lethal cult turn up to lay claim to anyone and anything.

It all ends, like Hamlet, with the floor carpeted with corpses.

Despite flashes of intrigue and excellence in editing and direction, however, the build-up at the beginning is too slow, and this pacing problem occurs on and off throughout this overlong film, so you keep wishing things would happen a mite before they do.

Performances, though, are good all round, with Erivo's singing a revelation (perfect casting for A Star is Born if Gaga hadn't got there first). And, if you buy the whole concept, you'll probably enjoy this more than I did.

David Quinlan

USA 2018. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Technicolor.
142 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 10 Oct 2018