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El hotel mystery feels a little tired

12 October, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Dakota Fanning in Bad Times at the El Royale

Directed by Drew Doggard
Certificate 12a

THIS strange fish of a tale has much to like and loathe in equal measure. And, because of this, it feels all the more disappointing as the bits it does well it does very well indeed.

The El Royale is a hotel that’s cut down the middle by the county line separating Nevada and California, a splendidly kitsch palace.

It feels like it has been inspired by the bonkers, allegedly true life story in the New Yorker magazine by writer Gay Talese about The Voyeur’s Motel, a spectacularly creepy place where the proprietor had made secret tunnels in ceilings so he could watch couples getting steamy. El Royale has similar architectural secrets to hide.

We meet club singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo, who has a charming voice to go with her outstanding performance) as she checks in. She is on her way to play a gig at Reno, and chooses this out-the-way lodging as it’s cheap.

She is joined in the lobby by sports jacket-wearing salesman Laramie (Jon Hamm), priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and hip-swinging hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Fanning).

The staff are nowhere to be seen, and when an employee does show up to divvy up the rooms, it’s in the form of quietly spoken Miles (Lewis Pullman), who, like Jack in The Shining, seems to be running this orange and brown coloured place of rest on his lonesome.

These strangers, thrown together, all have different, secret reasons to be holed up in Lake Tahoe, reasons that become apparent through flashbacks, time hops, and set-tos between each.

The likes of Bridges, Erivo, Fanning and Chris Hemsworth are cracking to watch.

Some scenes are very beautifully framed, and elevate the action simply because the background is enchanting. Add to this a soundtrack that’s a wonderful trip through hits of the period.

What is not to admire is the way the film seems to have a plot written like a giant game of consequences, as if each scene requires a more garish and ridiculous twist to be added to the mix.

OK, be outlandish, but try to make it somehow hang together. This story flips and dives from one idea to the next, due to the massive amount that is shoehorned into the two-hour run time.

It feels a bit Tarantino-lite, unintentionally perhaps. It’s a film that pays homage to his style of direction and characterisation, of chronological jumping through the plot and story, speedy camera work that he borrowed from old MTV videos.

Now this feels a little old hat and flimsy, rather than something new, dangerous, bold and exciting.


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