Cinema Review: Something of a battle Royale

by Shane Dillon
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Now that we’ve finally hit mid-October, we’re in familiar territory in a variety of media landscapes as a wide range of top new games, TV series and films get released to draw us towards an end-of-year buzz.

There’s been something of a buzz about Bad Times at the El Royale (Cert 16, 141 mins), which in many ways feels like a lovingly crafted tribute to the kind of fare Quentin Tarantino used to regularly trot out.

And, while his star has somewhat waned in recent years, El Royale has some vibrant stars shining brightly at the heart of this period thriller.

Set at the collision of the 1960s/1970s, the eponymous El Royale is an isolated hotel that straddles the border between Nevada and California – literally, as the border runs through the premises itself.

That’s only one of the divisions at the Royale, with a secret internal hallway by which to spy on the guests (coming direct from the Norman Bates school of management, one presumes) being yet another way to present a fractured way to isolate the guests.

And, what guests: a group of disparate strangers show up at the Royale as a storm looms on the horizon, each with their own backstory to reveal.

With everyone from a mysterious priest (an ever-reliable Jeff Bridges) to a drifter (Dakota Fanning), the Royale’s guests are something of a motley bunch, with the Royale itself somewhat akin to a guiding character.

It’s difficult to say much more about Bad Times at the El Royale without giving away some core plot details, but that Tarantino reference earlier is no doubt something that many viewers will be thinking of.

After all, the Royale walks very much in the footsteps of several of his films, akin to a fusion of the snowbound Hateful Eight (a film which largely left me cold) and something zippier, like Pulp Fiction.

It brings together a number of cinema tropes which are something of a cliche in their own right (strangers drawn together on a fateful night, secrets galore, gradually revealed backstories, a set that’s practically a character) but mixes them together with just enough style to form a standalone product.

We soon see that nobody is quite what they seem here, with every character nursing their own secrets that are set to collide within the Royale’s meandering halls and quirky setting.
Quirky is certainly something that director/writer Drew Goddard understands very well; after all, he was also responsible for the fantastic horror pastiche The Cabin in the Woods (2011), which played with horror tropes like a virtuoso.

Here, however, he’s in much more familiar territory, with the Royale providing much less innovative fare, and overshadowed by that feeling of following in Tarantino’s footsteps.

Still, there are worse people to trail – the Royale isn’t as good as Cabin or as masterful as Tarantino at his best, but it’s still an enjoyable, well-crafted film in its own right, with some stellar music, to boot.

With some great performances and a slow-burn nature (a little too slow, however, as some sharper editing could have tightened up its overly indulgent run time) it’s also a rare film that’s doubtless more rewarding to approach on a second viewing, once you know the characters’ true natures.

As such, while the eventually murderous El Royale is probably one of the last places you’d want to check into, the film itself is well worth checking out.

Verdict: 7/10[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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