Bad Times begin when four strangers — a priest, a mediocre singer, an appliance salesman, and a mysterious yet glamorous young woman — are checked in to the El Royale hotel by a nervous manager. Throw in a tied up sister and a cult leader, and it makes for a fateful night full of violence. Each character is seemingly on a quest for redemption, but in all, the movie lacked in substance and character development.
As I was watching the unfortunate hotel guests, I didn’t know who to root for. Each character didn’t seem to have enough skin in the game for me to root for them, yet I didn’t hate any of the characters enough to wish for their demise. I knew it was going to be a bloodbath as soon as the puppy was killed; that is, the appliance salesman/secret FBI agent, the only character that is blatantly good and therefore expendable. But with a character that is seemingly good, he wasn’t believable enough for me to be surprised. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the sexy, cult-leader, Charles Manson rip-off played by Chris Hemsworth. However, he didn’t disgust me enough to make me hate him.
The Big sister/little sister duo played by Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spainey had the story
line with the most girth. The big sister, Emily, was trying to save her little sister from her cult-leader boyfriend, but the story was more about losing a lifelong bond between sisters. With that, I expected the betrayal by the younger sister, Rose, to feel much worse. When each of these characters is killed off one by one, I’m not emotionally invested enough to do anything other than shrug.
The maintenance closet character, Miles, played my Lewis Pullman, is a strange and nervous young man, but not weird enough. Throw some more Norman Bates vibes in there, make us think he’s a psycho killer, and THEN make us feel like assholes when we realize the truth about his past and his traumas. The whole movie was just SO CLOSE. The singer character, Darlene, played by Cynthia Enviro, has a story with a lot of potential but unfortunately it came across as incomplete, a summation that could honestly be made about every character in the story.
For a film with so much violence, none of it is gratifying. The build up around the hotel itself wasn’t enough for me either. Why is it this weird place in which people watch? Why is it this omnipresent “management?” The entire film came off as campy, pulpy, and relying on aesthetics to hold its head above water. It tried to allude to too many 70s references, but with no grounding in reality, it looked like a director who didn’t want to take anything off his mood board.
A few good jokes here and there. Bitchin’, washed up 70’s aesthetic, but not substantial enough to make up for poor storytelling and character development.