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Bad Times at the El Royale

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Bad Times at the El Royale
A young woman walks towards the entrance of the El Royale with the main characters, including her, shown above.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDrew Goddard
Written byDrew Goddard
Produced by
  • Jeremy Latcham
  • Drew Goddard
Starring
CinematographySeamus McGarvey
Edited byLisa Lassek
Music byMichael Giacchino
Production
companies
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 22, 2018 (2018-09-22) (TCL Chinese Theatre)
  • October 12, 2018 (2018-10-12) (United States)
Running time
141 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$32 million
Box office$31.9 million

Bad Times at the El Royale is a 2018 American neo-noir thriller film written, directed, and produced by Drew Goddard. It stars an ensemble cast consisting of Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, and Chris Hemsworth. The plot centers on six strangers and an employee at the El Royale, a hotel along the California–Nevada border, who arrive with dark personal secrets that eventually intersect on a fateful night in the late 1960s. The film explores themes on faith, redemption, and morality, with the state border and other visualizations representing the concept of right and wrong.

Goddard began writing the spec script for the film in November 2016, and compiled a list of songs into his screenplay. After telling major studios to avoid buying the script if they could not buy the licenses for each piece of music, he sold it to 20th Century Fox in March 2017. Principal photography started in January 2018 with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and took place until April, mostly on a large studio set in Burnaby. The El Royale hotel was built entirely on set under the supervision of production designer Martin Whist, who had envisioned designing a perfectly symmetrical hotel. Additional filming took place in the United States. During post-production, editing was completed by Lisa Lassek and the musical score was composed by Michael Giacchino.

Bad Times at the El Royale premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on September 22, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on October 12. The film underperformed at the box office, grossing $31.9 million against a $32 million budget, in part due to its competition and "R-rating" from the Motion Picture Association. Critics praised the film for its ensemble cast, soundtrack, and cinematography, but criticized its lengthy runtime. At the 45th Saturn Awards, it won Best Thriller Film and received nominations for Best Writing (Goddard), Best Actor (Bridges), Best Supporting Actor (Pullman), and Best Supporting Actress (Erivo).

Plot[edit]

The El Royale, once popular with the wealthy until losing its gambling license, is a hotel that straddles the California–Nevada border. In 1959, Felix O'Kelly hides a money bag under the floorboards of one of its hotel rooms. A man he recognizes arrives and shoots him dead. Ten years later, Catholic priest Daniel Flynn, singer Darlene Sweet, salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan, and hippie Emily Summerspring arrive at the hotel, which is now run by a single employee, heroin addict Miles Miller.

Upon checking into the honeymoon suite, Laramie begins removing wiretaps but unexpectedly finds a second set as well. After stealing the hotel's master key, he discovers a secret corridor from which every room can be observed through one-way mirrors and filmed with a movie camera. From the corridor, Laramie sees Darlene singing, Daniel removing the floorboards of his room, and Emily holding a young woman captive. In the parking lot, Laramie calls into the Federal Bureau of Investigation, identifying himself as Special Agent Dwight Broadbeck. He is instructed by J. Edgar Hoover to focus on his mission of collecting the surveillance materials the FBI had planted and ignore the kidnapping. Believing the mission has been compromised, Dwight is also told to prevent the guests from leaving. To do so, Dwight disables all the cars.

Daniel invites Darlene to join him for dinner in the hotel lounge, where Darlene says she is practicing for a performance in Reno and Daniel reveals that his memory is deteriorating. While Daniel is getting drinks, Darlene sees him spiking her beverage and knocks him unconscious with a bottle. Miles later finds and revives Daniel and tells him that he wants to undertake a confession. Daniel ignores the request and Miles, looking for the missing master key, leads Daniel to the secret corridor, explaining that he used to regularly film intimate encounters that he had to send to "management". However, Miles admits to having withheld one incriminating film of a deceased public figure who had been kind to him. When Daniel leaves to evaluate said film, Miles witnesses through the one-way mirror Dwight attempting to rescue Emily's hostage, who is revealed to be her younger sister, Rose. Emily kills Dwight with a shotgun, which also shoots out the mirror, revealing the corridor and injuring Miles.

Before these events, Emily had forcibly removed her sister from a dangerous cult. In the present, Rose calls its leader, Billy Lee, to tell him where she is. A witness to Dwight's murder, Darlene tries to escape but fails due to his tampering with her vehicle. Daniel arrives and reveals to her that he is Dock O'Kelly, imprisoned since the robbery in 1959. Recently paroled, he arrived in disguise to retrieve the money hidden by his brother Felix. Due to Dock's failing memory, he picked the wrong room and tried to drug Darlene to gain access to hers. To gain her trust, Dock offers to split the cash with Darlene. After retrieving the money, Billy and his cult arrive and take the pair, Emily, and Miles hostage.

In a flashback, Billy tells his cult the dangers of following the rules set by society. As a demonstration, he gets Rose to fight another girl for the chance to sleep with him as a saddened Emily watches nearby. In the present, a compliant Rose watches as Billy interrogates the group and finds the film, which he realizes is more valuable than the money. Beginning to terrorize the group, Billy kills Emily in a life-or-death game of roulette between her and Miles. Before Billy completes another round of roulette, Dock attacks him, a melee ensues, and a fire begins to spread. When Darlene implores Miles to pick up a gun and help, it is revealed that he served in the Vietnam War as a sniper and killed 123 people. A defiant Miles kills Billy and his followers but a distraught Rose stabs Miles in the stomach before being shot by Dock. Darlene tells "Father Flynn" to absolve Miles of the guilt over his wartime actions before he dies. After Dock complies, the pair toss the film into the fire before leaving the El Royale with the money. Sometime later in Reno, Dock attends Darlene's jazz performance at a nightclub. The two smile warmly at each other before she begins to sing.

Cast[edit]

Other cast members include Xavier Dolan as music producer Buddy Sunday, Shea Whigham as Dr. Woodbury Laurence, Mark O'Brien as bank robber Larsen Rogers, Charles Halford as prisoner Sammy Wilds, Jim O'Heir as emcee Milton Wyrick, Stephen Stanton as the voice of J. Edgar Hoover, and Rebecca Toolan as Helen Gandy.[1]

Themes and analysis[edit]

Deconstruction[edit]

As examined by Kyle Kizu from The Hollywood Reporter, the filmography of Drew Goddard, the creator of Bad Times at the El Royale, has tackled several times the deconstruction of a specific genre. When focusing on the 2018 film, he said that it was the "most controlled and fruitful piece of deconstruction" from the filmmaker, as it was able to present its thesis, of "what looks plain and ordinary hides something beneath", with its opening scene.[2] While The A.V. Club's Katie Rife noted that the film attempted to deconstruct its neo-noir genre, but that it was instead "a structurally ambitious example of same",[3] Matthew Razak of Flixist wrote that the film purposely avoided deconstructing its main genre as it "mashes together a whole wealth of genres and delivers an utterly unique, unpredictable, and unexpected movie that never stays still long enough to be anything but itself".[4] In a negative light, Andrew Paredes from ABS-CBNnews.com said that the film's runtime made it difficult to analyze, and that the film could have been "both a deconstruction and a commentary" or neither, and that only Goddard could say.[5] In an interview with Polygon, Goddard was asked if he focused on deconstructing the genres in his film as he did with The Cabin in the Woods in 2011. Talking with Matt Patches, he responded that "It's funny because in both cases that was not conscious either way. I just sort of go with what feels right for the story. Cabin was very aggressive in its approach. Whereas, in this case, [...] it just sort of came out inherently. I didn't want to make it about the genre."[6]

Right and wrong[edit]

A major aspect of Bad Times at the El Royale was its visualization of each character's morality and if their actions were justified. One of its main cues to this was the presence of the California-Nevada border dividing the hotel. In one of the opening scenes, Darlene Sweet takes her time walking across the state line and only crosses it with the help of Father Daniel Flynn, never actually stepping on the line itself. However, characters such as cult leader Billy Lee calmly walk in between the line without a second thought.[7] To further illustrate this idea, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey used color to give each character a "photographic signature". With this process, he assigned Billy to the color red for the significance of "impending doom, blood, and death", black and white to Daniel to tell his distinctions between the truth and deception, and bright colors to Darlene for her character's hopefulness and purity.[8][9] In an interview, Goddard said that he placed the story in 1969 due to the circumstances and tensions during the decade, including the Cold War and the Tate–LaBianca murders, while drawing inspiration on morality from the techniques used by the Coen brothers.[10][11]

Crisis of faith[edit]

"The film's purgatory also functions as a microcosm of an America trying to get a grip on its sins from the 1960s; Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, cruelly casual racism, roguish celebrities, doomed Hollywood starlets, hippie cult leaders, gruesome random murders, and the Vietnam War are all in the story's background. In their own ways, each of the characters represents some element of that decade."

—Alissa Wilkinson[12]

From Vox, film critic Alissa Wilkinson listed the themes of Bad Times at the El Royale as tackling "religion, salvation, and who we really are", while writing that the film was about "humanity's drive to find redemption". Believing that the state line served as the "existential crossroads" each character was facing, she came to the conclusion that the hotel was a "stand-in for purgatory". Overall, she noted that the main point of the use of religion in the film was the idea that confessing would help the characters "[speak] freely about their past misdeeds in time for someone else to see them for who they really are".[12] Tracy Palmer, from Signal Horizon, similarly evaluated the story and arrived at the assumption that Daniel was, in fact, God testing six people in purgatory, and as "Darlene never commits any sin beyond hating herself and aiding a criminal find his money [...] she is rewarded for her charity, and acceptance of self by singing for an audience what she wants, how she wants to look for eternity."[13]

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Ciara Wardlow said the film "has a lot to say about faith". She began her analysis with the mention that the reveal of Daniel not being a priest but bank robber Dock O'Kelly as being similar to "other invocations of religion" turning out to be misleading. She explained the decision of Dwight Broadbeck to violate his orders to potentially rescue a kidnapping victim, as his attempt to do what is right after reciting a short prayer to his daughter. After concluding that each character in the film was having their faith tested, such as Miles Miller seeking forgiveness for his sins and Billy playing God as a cult leader, Wardlow cited Pascal's wager to summarize the major theme of the project: "Bad Times repeatedly asks what is 'goodness' even, or forgiveness? And who is qualified to give it, for that matter?"[7]

Furthermore, a journalist named Jasmine from SSZee Media studied the film and wrote that it was "a study of religion" as every character was having a "crisis of faith". Focusing on the introduction of Billy Lee and how he uses religion to take advantage of his followers and to pose as a God himself, "walking the line between good and evil", Jasmine noted the similarity of his followers to the "disciples following Jesus". Also analyzing a scene in which a shot was framed to make Billy appear to have a halo on his head, she interpreted that his character was created to focus more on threatening appearances through his movements and words, calling it "the performance of Chris Hemsworth's career".[14]

The film reel[edit]

John F. Kennedy giving a speech
Rumors surrounding the personal life of John F. Kennedy inspired the presence of the film reel.

A small detail examined by critics and filmgoers was one in which a film reel was burned at the end of the film containing a recently deceased person in an intimate act. Due to every character being able to tell who the person was, the identity of the person was narrowed down to John F. Kennedy (JFK), Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. In their reasoning, Screen Rant's Zak Wojnar decided that the choice to never tell the audience the identity of the person was to lead them to the question of "if it should actually matter", and that the "key takeaway of the film is that great men aren't perfect. Good people can do bad things, bad people can do good things, and there's more to human beings than the binary poles of righteous and wicked."[15] Lia Beck from Bustle, on the other hand, closely examined the possibility of JFK being the person on the tape, as he had been rumored to have had an affair with Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s, who appears in the film through a photograph. They also pointed out that the hotel the El Royale is based on, the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino,[16] was frequently visited by the Kennedy family, with Goddard mentioning the rumor with the San Francisco Chronicle and how Monroe had also stayed at that hotel.[11][17] In an interview with Newsweek, Goddard mentioned that his choice to leave the person on the tape ambiguous was to move the focus on Darlene, her rant towards Billy, and her character as a whole.[18]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Drew Goddard at the premiere of his film "The Cabin in the Woods"
Drew Goddard wrote, produced, and directed the film as his "love letter to the crime thriller" genre.[19]

Drew Goddard began writing the spec script to Bad Times at the El Royale in November 2016.[20] To prepare for the film financially, he pitched the project with a budget and a selection of songs he wanted to be included. On March 8, 2017, 20th Century Fox bought the screenplay,[21] accepted Goddard's terms,[22] and brought the budget to $32 million.[23] According to The Hollywood Reporter, the script was only given to top studio executives, with potential buyers having to read it off a tablet before returning it to a courier.[24] Goddard was also attached to direct for TSG Entertainment and Goddard Textiles, producing alongside Jeremy Latcham; Mary McLaglen served as an executive producer.[25]

Gumbo is the perfect way to describe it. I love crime fiction, I love film noir, I love big ensemble movies, I love 60s music. So much of this movie is about my love for the music of the 1960s and wanting to celebrate the artistic revolution that was happening. I take all of those things and throw it into the gumbo pot, spice it up with a little my own stuff, and out comes El Royale.

— Goddard at New York Comic Con[26]

The film's location was influenced by the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino, a hotel located in between the border of California and Nevada. Goddard said he wanted to work with an ensemble cast after finishing The Martian with lead actor Matt Damon because he "wanted to play around with a large cast so that you don't know who the protagonist is."[16] On further inspirations, Goddard noted that his cast and crew watched several films throughout the film's production, including Casablanca (1942), Out of the Past (1947), Chinatown (1974), and Barton Fink (1991), along with reading several novels from Jim Thompson, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy, and Flannery O'Connor.[16][27]

Casting[edit]

Cynthia Erivo at an interview for "Bad Times at the El Royale"
Cynthia Erivo was cast in a singing role and helped Goddard develop a scene.

Goddard chose to spend more time developing his characters than looking for actors who would best fit the roles.[28] Jeff Bridges was the first person to receive the script,[29] and on August 23, 2017, it was announced he had been in negotiations to star alongside Chris Hemsworth, who had previously worked with the director on The Cabin in the Woods in 2011.[30][31] Actors who were also being considered for lead roles included Beyoncé, Tom Holland, and newcomer Cailee Spaeny;[32] the latter was officially cast on August 24.[33]

Cynthia Erivo was first considered for a lead role while working on Widows. She submitted two auditions tapes to casting director Carmen Cuba,[34][35] and was cast on August 29, 2017.[36] When asked about Erivo's audition process, Goddard said he "felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It was pretty exciting the day she walked in, that's for sure."[20] Erivo would go on to help Goddard write a scene in the climax of the film in which her character gives a speech towards the primary antagonist portrayed by Hemsworth, explaining that as the only lead character who is a woman of color, that if her character "doesn't have a moment where she can just speak, it will seem as though we don't want her to".[37]

In January 2018, Dakota Johnson joined the film; Russell Crowe signed on to star but dropped out shortly before filming began.[38][39] To quickly find his replacement, Jon Hamm was contacted while attending the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and was given a day to read the screenplay and another to decide whether he wanted to star.[40][41][22] After accepting, he had less than a week to remember fourteen pages of dialogue before filming began.[42][16] With Variety, Hamm noted a major reason he accepted to star was to work with Bridges.[43] On the matter, Hamm said "I've wanted to work with [Bridges] since I was in college or even younger. So to get that opportunity, you gotta jump with both feet".[43] In February, Nick Offerman and Mark O'Brien were spotted on set.[44] Lewis Pullman was confirmed in May 2018.[45]

Filming and design[edit]

Principal photography took place between January 29  – April 6, 2018, in areas around Vancouver, British Columbia, where an incentive was given in the form of a 28% refundable tax credit.[46][47][48] The film was shot under the working title Purple Harvest and filmed in chronological order to improve continuity.[49][19][50] After working on The Greatest Showman, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey was hired to bring out the "1960s look" and "beautiful colors" of each set.[8][51] Shot with Kodak 35mm film with a Panaflex XL camera on a 1:2.39 aspect ratio, McGarvey used Panavision C Series and E series anamorphic lenses to capture the feature film.[52][53][54]

Several actors took pay cuts to complete the project and to let the production crew "take big creative bets".[22][55] For the first few days of the shoot, filming for the main bank robbery sequence took place on location in Agassiz, British Columbia.[49][56] The following week, cast members were moved to Mammoth Studios, a large sound stage and studio set of the El Royale located in Burnaby.[53][57] The 10,000-square-foot set was created entirely by production designer Martin Whist, who had previously worked with Goddard on Cloverfield (2008) and The Cabin in the Woods, and had envisioned designing a perfectly symmetrical hotel with the director.[6][57][58] Furthermore, each room of the hotel was made to be unique and specific to each character through their wallpaper, with Darlene's room being "the most alive, the most vibrant, [and] the most of the [1960s] era".[59][60]

The whole thing is a set. We realized very early on we couldn't find this place. I just had this idea of fundamentally it being symmetrical. That was the thing that killed us — we just couldn't find something that's this symmetrical. I also wanted to control the weather. The weather plays a key role in this story, so I needed to build it all on a stage. We found a massive stage up in Vancouver so we could build the whole thing front and back. So it's all on one stage so it could just sort of exist.

— Goddard on deciding to construct the entire set for the El Royale with production designer Martin Whist[6]

Costume designer Danny Glicker created each character's attire and found Goddard's "visual vocabulary" to be "playful and sharp".[58] Glicker said his job was to create "real tension" in each character "between their outward appearance and who they really are".[58] To create the design for Hamm's character, a salesman, Glicker and his production crew researched different types of salespeople and used the 1969 documentary Salesman as inspiration, before deciding that his attire, described as being "very American", would change as the temperature in the film changed as well.[58] On the other hand, the clothing of Erivo's character, lounge singer Darlene Sweet, was purposely created to look imperfect to reflect her declining career.[58] In an interview with Women's Wear Daily, Glicker said he had to screen test each piece of clothing due to conditions presented in the film, such as the weather, environment, and lighting, and that he spent time at the library researching different types of clothing from the 1960s.[61] Summarizing his work, Glicker felt that actors wearing his created costumes were "infused with truthful information [...] to experience that character's life without inhibition".[58]

It took eight months to plan a tracking shot in which Hamm's character discovers the secret corridor of the El Royale and watches the hotel guests through one-way mirrors.[60] Rehearsals of the scene began in November 2017, with the cast working with a model of the hotel and small figurines to research how to perfect the timing.[41] Due to the complexity of the scene, in which Erivo was singing live for the five-minute continuous shot, cast and crew members had to move silently in unison while wearing "padded shoes and quiet clothes".[20] Using "30% reflective glass" for the one-way mirrors,[51] the scene took an entire day between twenty-seven takes to accomplish.[19][27][62] An additional scene in which Erivo's character sings to cover up noises caused by Bridges's character took twenty takes to complete.[63] Furthermore, the set of a scene involving Billy Lee and his cult talking around a bonfire was built outside of the parking lot of the hotel set.[59]

An opening scene introducing the main characters outside the hotel was one of the last scenes shot for the film as it was built on location to have the scene occur during the day; every other scene taking place inside the hotel was shot on the set at Mammoth Studios.[64][65] The finale of the film in which the hotel burns down was planned by the Whist's brother and special effects coordinator Joel Whist, using fire retardant materials to have the ability to turn the flame on and off.[64] The last scenes that were shot for the film involved flashbacks; the Vietnam War scene, originally going to be shot in Thailand, was filmed at the Polsa Rosa Movie Ranch in Acton, Ontario, while the FBI scene, doctor's office scene, and the jail scene took place inside an armory from the Canadian Army. Additional filming, in Los Angeles and north of Malibu, took place for three days where scenes involving a flower walk and a beach were shot.[53][66][67] On deciding to work using a wide aspect ratio, McGarvey said he had wanted to shine focus on the ensemble cast.[51]

Editing was completed by Lisa Lassek, who had also worked with Goddard on The Cabin in the Woods. Using Avid Media Composer, a tool she used to edit most of her projects, Lassek said she had to wait for the film stock to travel to Los Angeles, where it was processed and returned to Vancouver. As a result, Lassek was permitted to edit the project as filming took place while in a workspace above the set. Due to the delay, the footage shown in the film on television monitors was shot first so the original film stock could be projected on said monitors weeks later. After post-production concluded near the start of October 2018, the finished product reached an Avid DNxHD 115 resolution. On working with the director, she said there were various "scenes that, in the script, were particularly memorable. It was really the way Drew shot them that took them to a whole [new] level."[50]

Soundtrack[edit]

Bad Times at the El Royale (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Soundtrack album by
various artists
ReleasedOctober 12, 2018 (2018-10-12)
Genre
LabelRepublic Records
ProducerHarvey Mason Jr.[63]

Goddard wrote each song into his screenplay before pitching it for an "organic process of structuring the film and the songs" and told major studios to avoid buying the script if they could not buy the licenses for each piece of music.[63][29] He described the film as "a love letter to music" and served as a music supervisor.[69] Goddard had Erivo sing her songs live on set with the belief that without it, "the movie would not work".[22] With Entertainment Weekly, Goddard said that the music was "almost like the eighth character in the movie. It serves the function of a chorus in a Shakespearean play. It actually is a key part of the emotional fabric of the film."[68] As a result, the production crew had each song playing during filming on loudspeakers; Pullman and Bridges said they had originally read the script while listening to the songs in the background as a "great way to set the tone".[70] In introducing the character of cult leader Billy Lee with "Twelve Thirty", Goddard said he wanted to provide a metaphorical connection with the character, as the song is "very bright and seductive, but when you really listen to what the words are saying, there's an incredible darkness".[68]

The film score was composed by Michael Giacchino, who had met Goddard while working on Alias and Lost.[19] Both the score and its accompanying soundtrack album were released on digital download by Milan Records and Republic Records, on October 12, 2018.[71][72] The original tracklist for the soundtrack featured eleven prerecorded songs, while a digital re-release on November 30, 2018, included two additional songs; "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'", performed by Erivo in the film.[73][74] Following its re-release, the soundtrack received positive reviews from critics. Writing for Polygon, Karen Han called it "one of the year's best".[74] Angelica Florio from Bustle said that "between the music [...] and Darlene's show-stopping performances, you definitely get the sense that the song selection was key for Goddard".[75]

Track listing[76]
No.TitleWriter(s)Performer(s)Length
1."26 Miles (Santa Catalina)"Bruce Belland & Glen A. LarsonThe Four Preps2:28
2."Twenty-Five Miles"Bert Berns, Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua, Edwin Starr, & Jerry WexlerEdwin Starr3:21
3."Bend Me, Shape Me"Scott English & Larry WeissThe American Breed2:13
4."This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)"Holland–Dozier–HollandCynthia Erivo3:03
5."He's a Rebel"Gene PitneyAlana Da Fonseca2:53
6."I Got a Feeling"Holland–Dozier–HollandFour Tops3:04
7."Can't Take My Eyes Off You"Bob Crewe & Bob GaudioFrankie Valli3:22
8."Bernadette"Holland–Dozier–HollandFour Tops3:03
9."He's Sure the Boy I Love"Barry Mann & Cynthia WeilThe Crystals2:45
10."The Letter"Wayne CarsonThe Box Tops1:54
11."Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)"John PhillipsThe Mamas & the Papas3:26
12."Baby, I Love You"Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, & Phil SpectorTommy Roe2:39
13."Hold On, I'm Comin'"Isaac Hayes & David PorterCynthia Erivo2:47
Total length:36:58

Marketing[edit]

The marketing campaign from 20th Century Fox for Bad Times at the El Royale began on May 29, 2018, when "exclusive" images of the project were released and Drew Goddard said "real-life historical figures could turn up at the El Royale".[45][77] A teaser for the film was publicized on June 7, 2018,[78] with Entertainment Weekly calling it a "tense first look" and IndieWire stating that it managed to introduce an "eerie ensemble" while comparing its premise to Clue (1985) and the television series Room 104.[79][80] On August 28, an official trailer was released, which Collider described as "fantastic" as it was "more delightful for the fact that it reveals pretty much nothing beyond the basic setup and the idea that none of these strangers is who they at first appear to be".[81] In a trailer breakdown with Empire, who described it as an "instant blast of glossy genre intrigue", Goddard revealed the names of each character and said, "If it was really up to me, I'd say the less you know the better. I take very great care in giving the audience something they've never seen before and surprising the audience, and taking them to places that they do not expect to go."[82]

Promotional and theatrical posters for the film were released extensively to broadcast the ensemble cast. On June 26, 2018, eight character posters were unveiled by the studio,[83] with Ben Pearson from /Film noting the "progression of the setting sun" and "how the amount of light in each poster seems to mirror what we know about the characters so far".[84] On August 13, seven additional character posters along with an official theatrical poster were released featuring "closeups of the brooding main characters lit by the title's neon glow".[85][86] On August 28, a second theatrical poster was publicized to coincide with the release of the official trailer.[87]

Television advertisements of the film began airing on September 4, 2018. In the week starting with September 17, $5.16 million were spent on seven versions of a commercial aired 721 times on 28 networks seen by 223.4 million viewers, with most of the money going to NBC and FOX.[88] In the final week of September, eleven commercials were aired, which brought the overall promotional money spent on television commercials to $13.75 million.[89] In the first week of October, Bad Times at the El Royale had eighteen versions of similar advertisements aired 1,233 times nationwide, gaining an attention score of 91.74 from over 378 million viewers.[90] With its following week from October 8 to October 14 being its last time as one of the top five projects with the highest commercial spending, twenty-two commercials aired a total of 1,331 times on 34 networks, specifically on Adult Swim and NBC, bringing the film's overall television advertisement spending to $24.46 million.[91] On December 21, 2018, a 10-minute "extended preview" scene of the film was released,[92] with Collider questioning the studio's decision, stating that it was "something they should have done back in October, but it is what it is".[93]

The Hollywood Reporter's Chris Thilk analyzed the marketing techniques of Bad Times at the El Royale, summarizing the fact that the studio was "[betting] on noir nostalgia" to attract audiences. In what he believed was "established neon-heavy branding", Thilk said each of the released posters was "hinting in some way toward the nature or arc" of each character. On the trailers, he wrote that viewers were not able to "describe what's going" and were left "raising lots of questions". After discussing the initial footage being released at CinemaCon and San Diego Comic-Con, where moviegoers were also allowed to enter a lottery for the chance of seeing an exclusive screening of the film, Thilk tackled the various clips, featurettes, and television spots produced to advertise the film. In his summary, he wrote that the marketing campaign "promoted a strong cast and a wicked sense of humor", and that 20th Century Fox "has embraced that to sell it to those looking for something a bit different at the theater".[94]

Release[edit]

Theatrical[edit]

Bad Times at the El Royale premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on September 22, 2018, where it was attended by its crew, cast, and fellow filmmakers and actors including Manny Jacinto, Alvina August, Stefan Kapičić, Bill Pullman (the father of actor Lewis Pullman, who stars in the film), and Joss Whedon along with 20th Century Fox chairman and CEO Stacey Snider and vice chairman Chris Aronson.[34] At the opening, Whedon gave the film positive feedback, having previously worked with Goddard on writing The Cabin in the Woods, and said of the finished product, "It's gritty, it's hard-edged, but it's adorable."[34] In Austin, Texas, the film was one of the last screened projects at Fantastic Fest and later had its world premiere in Spain, out of competition, at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.[95]

During test screenings, negative scores appeared when audiences were given a viewing of the film with a low runtime.[22] As a result, 20th Century Fox decided to theatrically release Bad Times at the El Royale with a 141-minute runtime on October 5, 2018.[96][97] However, in June 2018, the premiere date was postponed to October 12 in an attempt to avoid competition with the October 5 releases of Venom and A Star Is Born.[98][99] After it opened in theaters, the film was chosen to introduce the 13th Rome Film Festival, serving as its Italian premiere, with festival director Antonio Monda explaining his choice by calling the film "sophisticated, intelligent, ironic, surprising and elegant".[100] At the ceremony, which Cailee Spaeny also attended, Goddard said his film contained "parallels to the #MeToo movement" on the topic of abusing power.[101]

Home media[edit]

20th Century Studios Home Entertainment released Bad Times at the El Royale on Digital HD via digital distribution on December 18, 2018, before giving the film a physical release on Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD the following year on January 1.[102][103] Special features on the Blu-ray include several featurettes, a 28-minute documentary with behind the scenes footage titled Making Bad Times at the El Royale, both trailers, and an image gallery.[103][104][105] In separate reviews, Chris Evangelista from /Film and Adam Chitwood from Collider both expressed their disappointment in the lack of an audio commentary track from the director.[103][104]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Bad Times at the El Royale grossed $17.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $14 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $31.9 million against a production budget of $32 million.[106] A box-office bomb, its performance was credited to its runtime, competition, and R-rating from the Motion Picture Association.[107]

Weeks before its release, Variety reported that film analytics had predicted the film would make $8–12 million in its opening weekend, with some "ambitious estimates" going as high as $17 million.[108][109] Released alongside First Man and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween on October 12, 2018, in 2,808 theaters, Bad Times at the El Royale made $575,000 through Thursday-night previews,[110][111] $2.8 million on its Friday opening day,[112] and a grand total of $7.1 million across its three-day opening weekend.[a] Below initial estimates despite "relatively strong reviews and a star-studded cast",[114] and seventh at the box office, Deadline Hollywood noted the fact that the film had made less in its opening weekend than Night School in its third.[113] In its second weekend, the film grossed $3.4 million as ninth at the box office, bringing its total to $13.5 million.[117] By its fourth, the film was being broadcast in a mere 322 theaters, reaching a total of $17 million in the United States and Canada, before being pulled from theaters on December 6, 2018.[116]

Worldwide, Bad Times at the El Royale debuted in 36 markets, making $4 million in its opening weekend;[114] the top countries were Russia ($913,000), Australia ($884,000), the United Kingdom ($620,000), and Germany ($315,000).[118][119] In its second and third weekends, the film respectively made $2.5 million and $1.63 million in 49 markets outside of the United States and Canada, bringing its total to $10.5 million,[120][121] before ending its theatrical run with a total of $14 million outside of the two countries.[106]

Critical response[edit]

Stanley Kubrick in the trailer for the 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove".
Quentin Tarantino speaking at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con in San Diego, California.
Bad Times at the El Royale was compared to several works from Stanley Kubrick (left) and Quentin Tarantino (right), including The Killing (1956) and Pulp Fiction (1994).

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 74% of 256 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Smart, stylish, and packed with solid performances, Bad Times at the El Royale delivers pure popcorn fun with the salty tang of social subtext."[122] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 60 out of 100 based on 43 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[123] Audiences polled by CinemaScore, 53% male and 73% at or over the age of 25, gave the film an average grade rating of "B−" on an A+ to F scale.[113][118]

The film was criticized for its runtime, character beats, and pacing.[3] Additionally, Goddard's screenplay for the film received mixed reviews, with some praising it for its dialogue and use of violence,[124][125] others comparing it to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956),[3][25][126] and several critics finding its third act failed to deliver the ending it was building towards.[127][128] From NPR, Simon Abrams noted Goddard's directorial style, and how he was able to keep his "hyper-compartmentalized plot moving forward so swiftly" despite its moments of tension and significant plot points.[129] On the other hand, Glenn Kenny from RogerEbert.com did not enjoy the film's finale, writing that it was "an unfortunately apt demonstration of what can befall a clever filmmaker who gets too clever".[130]

Smaller aspects of the film, such as its soundtrack and cinematography, received praise.[131] Critics agreed that Seamus McGarvey's cinematography made the film visually appealing because of its composition and color palette.[104][132] The film's performances, especially those from Erivo and Bridges, also received praise and were mostly well-received.[12] While The A.V. Club's Katie Rife criticized Cailee Spaeny's character, she praised Erivo's monologue near the climax of the film.[3] Collider's Adam Chitwood said Erivo's acting made Bad Times at the El Royale "one of the best films of the year".[133] Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt gave praise to Erivo for her "steely charisma and gorgeous powerhouse of a voice".[134] Abrams also gave positive feedback to the film for its ability to give each member of the ensemble cast enough time to act out their "best",[129] with Manohla Dargis from The New York Times writing that "the performances and the visual style keep you easily engaged [...] Goddard keeps everything smoothly, ebbing and flowing as the characters separate and join together, but at some point [...] you want something more substantial".[125]

Accolades[edit]

For her performance, Erivo received nominations for the Black Reel Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female,[135] the London Film Critics' Circle Award for Supporting Actress of the Year,[136] and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress.[137] A member of the British Society of Cinematographers, McGarvey was nominated by the organization for Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film.[138] Bad Times at the El Royale was also nominated at the Golden Trailer Awards for Best Home Ent Horror/Thriller and received a San Diego Film Critics Society award nomination for Best Use of Music in a Film.[139][140] At the 45th Saturn Awards, it received Best Thriller Film and nominations for Best Writing (Goddard), Best Actor (Bridges), Best Supporting Actor (Pullman), and Best Supporting Actress (Erivo).[141]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Initial reports published estimates from the studio stating the film had made $7.2 million across its three-day opening weekend.[113][114][115] However, future confirmations reported that it had actually made $7.1 million across its first weekend.[111][116]

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