ROCKETING up to take second place (for now) in my favorite movies I’ve watched so far this year, is the first place winner for best title of the year: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE.
Remember when you watched Slow West and were just like, fucking superb you funky little genre deconstruction? So, that, only this time it’s 1969 and a small group of mysterious strangers with dubiously legal motives are all checking into a once high rollin’, celebrity hidey-hole kind of hotel that is now straddling the line between kitschy and seedy, just as it physically straddles the line between the states of California and Nevada, and also probably Heaven and Hell, distinguishable mostly by a slightly different color scheme. Salvation is in the eye of the beholder, and Purgatory is an empty check-in desk. It’s Drew Goddard’s first feature The Cabin In the Woods meets Dante’s Divine Comedy, in an at turns popcorn-spillingly surprising and popcorn-munchingly meditative 2 hour 20 minute stage play in which this is the incredibly well deployed soundtrack I still wanna belt out at every minute.
It’s funny that last week I got into a philosophical conflict with a coworker buddy over what constitutes a spoiler, in general but specifically in relation to this movie, as even more than usual I absolutely will not tell you any of the specific things I loved about this, because the surprise of them is that good!! But I stand by my position that “I’ve heard it’s sorta like purgatory” is not a spoiler, it’s just relaying a critical interpretation. That’s the kind of thing I’ve seen in headlines of reviews, where you do not put spoilers, but where you would put something like, I don’t know, Venom is sorta like a buddy/romantic comedy, which I’ve also been seeing recently. Providing info on the overarching genre or lens is the pitch, not a mid-plot reveal (usually), the same way cast billing isn’t a spoiler (…usually).
But on that, such a high calibre ensemble here, including Tony-winning Cynthia Erivo (she’s the lead! the marketing has not made this clear!), Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, John Hamm, and of course: Shirtless Chris Hemsworth. Plus one bit part that I will tell you about even though it feels like one of the joys I’m closely guarding, because it’s the very opening scene and the very opening scene just cannot be a spoiler, it cannot: also featuring Nick Offerman, who spends the majority of his screen time in a hotel room shot like a diorama industriously prying up floorboards to bury a bag of money. Good Shit at the El Royale.