If in the coming weeks you are in a conversation where someone complains that there are no more original films being made by Hollywood, you have only 2 acceptable courses of action to choose from as a response. Option A, the fitting response would be to bash that person over the head with a shovel, as he or she has no idea what they are talking about, they just talk for love of the sound of their own voice, which is obnoxious. Option B, the socially acceptable one, is to ask them is they have seen Bat Times At The El Royale and subsequently invite them to shut the hell up. Because this movie is a 100% original story, executed flawlessly that went under the general audience’s radar. It is THE most underrated movie of this season and a poster perfect example why it is so difficult to make a solid, standalone movie nowadays. This is the first movie to come out under the hand of Drew Goddard in years, as despite a great number of projects he was attached to, the last film he directed was The Cabin In The Woods, way back in 2012. In the case of both movies, Goddard pulled double duty, as he was not only the director but the screenwriter as well.
The setup for the story is a classic. There is a remote hotel, some guests check in. Everybody is sketchy and tries to mind their own business, but inevitably, things go sideways, really quick and really bad. And there is a storm coming. As I said, a classic. But the execution of the story is masterful. After the initial meet of the characters, everybody goes on their merry way with the focus on the character portrayed by Jon Hamm. We get to see what he is up to and how his story unfolds, during which we also get some glimpses, previews in the stories of the other characters. Not enough to understand what is going on with them, but just enough to become curious about them. Once we are finished with Hamm’s character, we rewind the clock and we got to spend the same time interval with another character, witnessing things from their perspectives, seeing previews for other protagonists, and so on, like dancing the same song with different partners, one after the other. And once we are up to date with everybody, the story can move forward in time, and the dance floor gets smaller and smaller every time, until all story lines converge into one big finale. I really like this approach. For one thing, this allows the audience to really focus on the events. If all points of view would have been presented in parallel, jumping from one character to the other every 20 seconds, this movie would have been unwatchable. Many details would have been lost on the audience, no emotional bonds would have been created and would turn the entire story into one giant mess, which it actually is, at least for the characters. But as things are, you get to know every protagonist intimately. Their backstory is being told in the form of a brief flashback, inserted at the right moment for it to be relevant to present events. You get to understand how things got from A to B to Z, even if the events were not showed in that order, because you were given all the story elements in a most palatable way. There are no “blink and you miss” type of clues here. All you have to do is pay attention to what is happening on the screen and you will understand everything. After an appropriate time of tease, that is.
But beyond the great storytelling, this movie is a great vehicle for the actors to showcase their talents. Jeff Bridges and Jon Hamm are having a great time making this movie and it shows on screen. Cynthia Erivo is charming and steals nearly every scene she is in. Not to mention her singing… Lewis Pullman, son of Bill Pullman, pulls a breakout performance here (excuse the pun) that most likely will put him on the map, and Chris Hemsworth is just hypnotic. I don’t think I ever saw Hemsworth portraying a villain before, but he is one charming devil.
Overall, if you still have the chance to see Bad Times At The El Royal in theaters, do go and see it. It deserves, and needs, all the views it can get. So, go on, reward original movies when they do appear on the big screens. Otherwise we will end up in an era where the next Scorsese movie goes straight to Netflix… oh wait, that is already happening….