“… no piece was any worse than the last but it was definitely too much.”
Last night I watched Bad Times at the El Royale and I loved it! Every single aspect of this movie is lovingly crafted, and I don’t know if there is anything that I can point to as being bad. Bad Times at the El Royale is a movie about a group of strangers, each one with their own motivations and backstory, coincidentally meeting at a defunct casino/motel and trying to survive when the true nature of the establishment begins to show itself. Bad Times at the El Royale is most easily compared to a cake. When you have a piece of cake that is amazing in every way possible, there is not a single doubt in your mind that you could eat the whole thing. When you accept the challenge and take that final bite you’re exhausted; no piece was any worse than the last but it was definitely too much.
The first bite is heaven. It’s light, it’s flavourful, it’s not too sweet but it is sweet enough; it is perfection. This is the introduction of Bad Times at the El Royale. We are introduced to the basic story, a man buries a bag under the floorboards of the hotel then dies, and then to the characters. When Bad Times at the El Royale started I likened it to Murder on the Orient Express; there was a group of strangers, each one seemingly hiding something, and we as the audience would be blessed with figuring out exactly what was going on over the next few hours. I was completely sold. And the writing helped a lot as well. That brings us to the first piece as a whole.
You don’t regret eating an entire piece of cake. It was delicious the entire way through, and you know that you could eat as many as they will sell you. That was the first act of Bad Times at the El Royale. Now it is almost impossible to divide this film into clean ‘acts’, and I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m going to be intentionally vague here. Bad Times at the El Royale introduces a complication, one that we kind of saw coming but now our assumption has been realized. This is absolutely brilliant to watch, and it allows us to learn about one of the characters more in-depth as well as introduces a mystery element to the film. Suffice it to say I’m on board at this point.
The second piece of cake is placed in front of you. You bite it and a state of euphoria washes over you. This is the writing of Bad Times at the El Royale. Every character in this movie is so well thought-out, so real in every aspect, that I couldn’t help but be in a constant state of awe. The interactions seem casual while also very important or sinister, and the movie keeps you wanting more. It’s light when it needs to be, it’s intense when it needs to be, it’s exactly what you want in a movie.
The third piece of cake comes and you are still in love with this whole cake metaphor. This piece is the acting. In Bad Times at the El Royale there are almost too many notable actors to name them all, but each one gives an almost career performance. A lot of the character comes from the writing, but most of it is how that writing was brought to life. There is always something brewing behind the eyes of every character onscreen, and the fact that it is always there not only makes the movie more mysterious but also helps mask when something big is going to happen, thus preserving the surprise.
You’ve now had about six pieces of cake, each one being a character backstory. That’s the thing about Bad Times at the El Royale: Every single character gets their chance in the spotlight. Not one of these stories is lesser than any of the others, but there are just too many. Never did you say “this piece of cake isn’t as good as the last one”, but you’re getting mighty full. There is not one doubt in my mind that a single story told in Bad Times at the El Royale could make it’s own film, but putting them all together lead to everything feeling bloated. Unless you’re going to watch Bad Times at the El Royale in instalments, you’re bound to get burnt out by the halfway mark.
By the end you’ve finished an entire cake. This information, given to you by the server who has been watching your steady demise over the course of this fateful evening, startles you. The bill startles you more. Do you regret eating an entire cake? Not necessarily. It was really good, you just know it would have been better had you saved a few pieces for tomorrow.
I give Bad Times at the El Royale a C