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‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ – a modern ‘Pulp Fiction’

     “Bad Times at the El Royale” is freshly-released neo-noir mystery thriller, written and directed by Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”). The film takes place in 1969 within the complex of the titular El Royale hotel, a hotel split down the middle, with one side located in California and the other in Nevada. The film follows four complete strangers as they arrive and occupy different rooms with the titular hotel, and slowly the secrets of each of the characters come to light. We learn more not only about their dark pasts, but that of the El Royale as well.

     Before I delve deeper into this review, I need to establish that I was completely shocked by how fantastic this movie was. I felt like I was watching a pseudo-”Pulp Fiction” that was set in the 1960s. I also need to state that I will not be able to express how amazingly great this movie was within the span of this article. This movie appears to be going one way, and then suddenly it does a complete 180. Just when I thought the movie was becoming predictable, it threw out a curveball that I couldn’t have seen coming.

     “El Royale” deals with a number of themes, ranging from redemption, religion, right and wrong, division and that appearances (even actions) are often misleading. The number of motifs that show up are innumerable: from the colors red and black, to lines and ways of separating people and things as well as the constant references to prayer and religion that are separate from the mechanics of the plot. In fact I believe that you may be able to predict what will occur in this movie if you are able to focus on the motifs.

     The use of music throughout the movie is similar to “Goodfellas,”. In fact the song “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” by the Crystals (which I often associate with “Goodfellas”), is present. It shows that Goddard has clearly taken inspiration from his past films, yet he has made his own distinguishable product. Each scene can be associated with a song, and it’s done diegetically! In simpler terms , it’s essentially sound that is occurring within the actual film (like the “Cantina Band “theme in Star Wars) while non diegetic is sound that is not heard by the characters (the “Darth Vader” theme).

     The breakout performance in “El Royale” is shared by Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman. Erivo plays a struggling singer by the name of Darlene Sweet. It’s fitting that the Crystals have a song played, as I instantly thought of them when we first hear her character sing. Her voice and her acting is amazing, and I want to see more of her in other movies.  

     By far my favorite character in the movie was Miles Miller played by Lewis Pullman. Pullman is such an obscure actor that he does not have Wikipedia page, yet he delivers the most believable and complex performance in this movie. Miller is a  troubled character within the movie and he serves to showcase the movie’s theme of lines of division. He constantly flip-flops what kind of person he wants to be throughout the film. He is one of the most interesting movie characters that I have seen all year, and I want to see Pullman in more movies after this. Someone get him a wiki page!

     My only criticism for El Royale is that near the end it starts to feel its length. However, the great performances given by the cast, the exciting plot and the intriguing dialogue help prevent it from becoming boring.

     “Bad Times at the El Royale” was more than I expected , and for the better! Honestly the only reason that I originally saw this movie was because I thought it looked better than the other movies currently available , and not only was it better than what I had anticipated, it is possibly the best movie released  this year! I did not expect this movie to be nearly as good as it was. “Bad Times at the El Royale” is an instant classic, and I believe that years from now it will be looked upon with the same reverence that is given to “Pulp Fiction”. 5/5 stars.

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