Summary: A chance meeting of strangers at a hotel on the border of California and Nevada.
This is one of the movies from last year that I didn’t get to catch in the theater and I really, really wish I had. For all my bemoaning about how we need more movies that you can absorb in the theater, engages and keeps your attention, and keep you thinking long after you left, this is pretty much perfect. I would have ranked this in my top of 2018 had I seen it last year.
Written and directed by Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods, The Good Place, a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel- I’m a big fan, could you tell?), Bad Times is a tale of fate and choice, weaving in the backgrounds of several different characters, what brings them to the mysterious hotel at the same time, and the decisions they make when their pasts and the hotel’s secrets catch up with them. And that’s it. That’s all you need to know. This really is a “Sit back and let me entertain you” kind of movie and it’s a mystery/suspense that expertly dashes in quite a few other genres- it’s not scary or gory, but it is disturbing and violent in its own way.
One of the best things about this movie is that it so expertly handles being a concept movie and using its premise to present thematic challenges to its characters. They’re introduced to a kitschy hotel where you can either choose the California side or the Nevada side- and every twist and turn of the movie appropriately hinges on a character’s decision of one or the other. Should I choose left or right? Should I tell someone or keep it to myself? There’s an excellent connection between the actions and consequences, making the payoff more satisfying and the moments of realization much more impactful.
That’s all I really want to say about this movie, number one being I think everyone should really watch this and number two- it’s better if you go in not knowing what to expect. The first hour is the slowest of slow burns, exposing bits and pieces of the characters in strategic, and also very pleasant ways, letting you play with preconceived notions and biases in order to sUbVerT ExPectaTioNS (in the right way). And all of the characters- so vibrant and tangible- get a proper chance to shine…
… Man, this script is good. It gives the actors a lot to work with, giving just the right amount of dialogue and letting their body language do all the work. There are several lines that appear to be write offs and then come back with unexpected poignancy. The highlight of the movie is the interactions between Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo (what a year!) and their almost protective nature of the other. And I just have so many questions about her- was this role written for her? Was it adjusted once they found her? Because she is so damn perfect in this. And that voice. Wow.
Okay, I’m done gushing. Go have a good time at the El Royale!