Over the months leading up to its 4K release, I had watched two trailers and read three different plot synopsis for BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE and still had no idea what it was about. The film is the latest from writer/director Drew Goddard, who is known to fanboys for his work on TV’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and to everyone else for the surprise hit CABIN IN THE WOODS. Bad Times doesn’t live up to the expectations set by Cabin, but it’s an enjoyable, darkly comedic thriller that is at the very least, original.
But back to that plot. The best way to describe it is that it’s about a group of strangers that stay at a unique hotel on the California and Nevada border. All of them have their own issues they’re working out, but to survive the night, they have to come face to face with a demented cult leader. That doesn’t give too much away, but it gives you a better idea than the trailers managed.
The older priest (Jeff Bridges), the young singer (Cynthia Erivo), the tough girl (Dakota Johnson) and the traveling salesman (Jon Hamm) all get way more than they bargained for after they check into the El Royale. And since the fun of the film is seeing these guest’s secrets get slowly revealed, I won’t reveal anything. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give special credit to actor Lewis Pullman (yes, the son of Bill Pullman), who played the hotel manager Miles Miller. He was surrounded by established, charismatic and proven actors, yet he stood above all of them and gave the most memorable performance.
As fun as the movie is, it’s definitely not without its faults. For starters, with an almost two-and-a-half-hour runtime, it’s easily 45 minutes too long. Goddard wasted a lot of screen time, focusing on things that played virtually no part in the plot of the film. The nature of the film made this a glaring problem because the audience was waiting to find out about the characters but were forced to watch Darlene belt out another song or sit through another backstory piece that didn’t tell as much about the characters as it should have. This played into the pacing issue, causing the movie to stutter at times. And this is a personal preference, but it would have been nice to have the stories intertwine somehow, making their eventual confrontation with the big bad (Billy Lee, played by Chris Hemsworth) more intense and meaningful. As it was, Billy was just a cult leader on a power trip.
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a very unique movie. It borrows elements from Tarantino and various horror films that clearly inspired Drew Goddard, but it still ends up being something I haven’t seen before. The originality, coupled with some fun performances from Bridges, Hemsworth and a surprising turn from relative newcomer Lewis Pullman make Bad Times worth checking out.
4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: This is a nice transfer and an obvious upgrade over the Blu-ray, but there are times where I found myself disappointed. This is a very dark film and the scenes in the lobby of the hotel, where the red lighting clashed with the dark colors, were a little saturated. That could be a director’s choice, but traditionally when you see red as the primary source of color, the reds really stand out and “pop” on screen. That wasn’t always the case here. Aside from that, the scenes in the rain or in the back walkways of the hotel featured very deep blacks and great use of colors.
Audio: Music is a big part of the film, whether it being actually sung by Erivo or used in the background. The Dolby Atmos track really shined with the music and sounded incredible during the more action-oriented sequences.
This title was reviewed using a Samsung UBD-K8500 with a Sony XBR75X850C TV.
There are no 4K exclusive special features, but it does include a Blu-ray of the film, which has the following special features:
Making Bad Times at the El Royale (28:35): This is a nice making-of featurette that covers the highlights of making the film.