Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

bad1How I loved this. You know how, sometimes, just right from the very start you know that a film is just right for you, right from the very first shot you simply know it’s going to be great, right up your street? That’s how it was for me watching this- there’s a static shot, a long single scene shot from one fixed camera, of a hotel room. A figure walks past the window outside and opens the door, hurriedly steps inside, furtively carrying two bags of luggage. The room is sparsely furnished and has period decor, 1950s. Plays period music om the radio. moves bed and furniture, rolls up the carpet, lifts up a section of floorboards, hides one of the bags in the gap underneath, nails the boards back down, rolls back the carpet, restores the bed and furniture. Camera hasn’t moved. Its dark, stylish, there’s something noir about everything. Its raining hard outside. The man changes clothes, waits. There’s a knock at the door, he opens the door, recognises who stands there, turns his back on them and walks into the room, letting them in, relaxes. I won’t write what happens next- indeed, this is one of those posts where I really can’t say much of anything about the film. Its full of twists and turns and surprises and overlapping timelines and flashbacks and it’s all part of the fun of watching the film.

Now, I won’t attempt to suggest that this film is perfect. There’s certainly plenty of detractors online: its overlong, there’s too many twists, the last third doesn’t live up to the promise of the first, the film sags in the middle, Chris Hemsworth is terrible. Well, I’d have been happy with another half-hour, I can’t understand how the attention-span of some gets worn thin these days by anything north of two hours (I’d love to be able to soak in an extended cut, even). I thought the ending was fine, if the film kept on piling up the twists and turns it could have become a farce, really- it’s a fine line as any Tarantino film will suggest. Hemsworth does seem a particular item of contention but actually I think he has the charisma to pull it off, he’s an OTT nod to the nightmarish magnetism of a Charles Manson. The whole thing is bizarre-noir, it’s all part of the pulp-noir flavour of it all, but sure, I can understand how it doesn’t click with some. Its just that kind of divisive movie. But I love movies like that, marmite movies I guess you could call them.

bad2The cast- it’s a great cast. I don’t think Jeff Bridges has been quite this good in years (and Bridges in great form is a joy to behold), Jon Hamm is great (its funny how he just seems to physically ‘click’ in anything set in the 1960s, which reminds me, I really have to finish Mad Men), while Cynthia Erivo is just extraordinary, frankly, and no doubt destined for Great Things.  The film features a brilliant soundtrack of period songs complimented by a fine Michael Giacchino score (someone else who seems to thrive with 1960s-set movies). Its got some really jaw-dropping art direction… I fell so in love with the whole setting and the design work involved in bringing it all to life, the hotel is simply a wonder to behold, and the widescreen compositions really bring the best out of it.

I watched this on something of a whim as a £1.99 rental on Prime, and I’m really fighting the urge to just go out and buy the 4K UHD (the common-sense voice in my head is just reminding me to wait for a sale to drop). Yeah, I really, really liked this movie. I just can’t really go into the details about why, all the individual moments, the clever sleight of hand of the director or the surprises in the script or just the great turns by the cast, because it would possibly spoil the experience of watching it for the first time. So maybe I’ll come back to those details when I buy the disc and rewatch the film. I’m certain it will reward repeat viewing: I liked the gaps; there’s an awful lot alluded to or suggested that the film really doesn’t elaborate upon and it’ll be interesting to rewatch and ponder/examine them. Maybe people are irritated by those gaps- the film doesn’t explain everything and sections of the narrative are deliberately vague, and I know some hate that kind of thing. I think films can really benefit from being vague – afterall, the whole ‘is he/isn’t he a Replicant’ never hurt Blade Runner.

bad3.jpgIt isn’t for everyone, evidently (I was actually surprised, after watching the film, when I then went to see some reviews and saw just how negative many are). Its funny, really, as I wasn’t as impressed by director Drew Goddard’s previous film, The Cabin in the Woods, which did get all the critical/popular acclaim but to me didn’t really work, it seemed a bit too clever for its own good. But this one certainly did; maybe it was the style, the setting, the mood. Contender for one of the best films I’ll see this year, I think.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

cabin1I’m currently playing a sly game with Avengers: Infinity War, in which I’m carefully filtering all media -internet, print, word of mouth- and avoiding any spoilers. At all. Its a tricky game and one can’t always win, but so far I’m winning. it’s a game I’m also playing with Marvel’s Black Panther movie and a few others that I haven’t seen at the cinema or on disc yet. Avoid reviews. Avoid internet articles. Avoid forums. Its the only way to avoid spoilers. I mean, sure if you’re not bothered, relax and the hell with it, but if you think a film deserves being unspoiled, you’ve got to make some effort.

Sometimes it can be a long game. Witness The Cabin in the Woods, which I finally got around to watching last night. I’ve dutifully avoided all spoilers and reviews for all these years. Not so sure the effort was duly warranted, as it turned out, but yeah, I managed to watch the film last night fresh-faced and blindly ignorant of what I was about to watch. I didn’t even know that Chris Hemsworth was in it until his name came up in the credits. In yer face, spoiler-net.

So anyway, it’s a film about a bunch of typical American college teens spending a weekend in an isolated cabin in the woods that is inevitably only going to end one way -loud music! booze! sex! gore!- and the horror tropes are, as you might expect, flashing by in an almost whos-who almanac of horror films, classic and bad. But there is always something weird going on, unseen by our protagonists, the events being orchestrated…  Clearly the whole cabin in the woods setting is a knowing wink towards all those horror tropes and the film has an agenda lifting it beyond the b-movie horror cliches it seems happily content to put onscreen. When the twists/meta-story unfolds the film actually descends into the wildest Joe Dante chaos not-actually-directed-by-Joe-Dante that I have ever seen and is all kind of fun. Gremlins on steroids. Wouldn’t say it was actually scary though. Which raises the question, shouldn’t a horror story be scary rather than clever?

Oh well. It was rather good fun and I enjoyed it, particularly some of the casting choices, such as Amy Acker and Fran Kranz, who set me off reminiscing about Dollhouse.  And it’s always a  pleasure being surprised by Sigourney Weaver turning up.  That’s worth all the effort of staying spoiler-free all by itself.