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Bad Times at the El Royale

Writing Movie “WRONGS

By Jim West

Bad Times at the El Royale

Directed by Drew Goddard

Written by Drew Goddard

Films told from various perspective and even edited to put things out of sequence can be very neat and raise suspense at times.  Take the 90’s classic Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino or the modern classic film Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan.  These films use this to their advantages.  This film however makes perhaps its biggest mistake by not taking notes from these mentioned films.

Here comes the spoilers.

The film opens with a odd mix of people arriving to the El Royale hotel to check in.  A salesman played by Jon Hamm, a priest played by Jeff Bridges, and a singer played by Cynthia Erivo are arriving also and finally the one guy in charge of check in, maintenance, room service, and just about everything it seems wakes up from his slumber to check in the guests.  He tells the priest this is not a nice place for him to be staying at and that just really sets the bad place tone directly a bit much.  The hotel sits on the border of California and Nevada, but other than a neat factoid this never really plays into the plot at all.

Now a girl arrives, played by Dakota Johnson, with a hostage in tow that gets discovered by the salesman who is really a FBI agent doing clean-up work at the hotel that now appears to have been used in the past to film incriminating videos of its famous occupants over the years.  The film then breaks up these perspectives of the guests into “rooms”.  We start with Room 1 which is the salesman’s room.  We see him retrieve multiple listening devices from his room.  He finds a secret corridor where he uncovers another operation which was filming guests.  He reports to DC and Mr. Hoover about this and that he witnessed in one of the rooms a girls being held against her will.  He is ordered to not interfere with what seems to him to be an apparent kidnapping.  Yet he does so anyway by breaking in the room knocking down Dakota’s character and when he rescues the younger girls realizes too late they are sisters and Dakota’s character guns him down with a shotgun.  Right here is where the film makes the fatal mistake.  This sequence should have been shown LAST.  Let the room’s sequences play out as they do, and even the climactic scene with Billy Lee, a cult pleader played by Chris Hemsworth, can play out as it does on screen to the ending of the singer on stage.  Then cut to “room 1” to end the film to finally see what set off the sequence of events and to fill in the ‘what just happened’ and ‘why’ of the plot.

Essentially the order of events proceeds in an almost chronological fashion and shows other characters perspectives and crossovers into the before seen scenes by showing what they see and hear from that earlier scene of the agent getting shot by the shotgun.  By moving this scene to the end of the film you get to see he was an agent and part of some shady government surveillance operation that is now covering its tracks.  You raise the ‘what just happened here’ bar by showing room 1 sequence last.  Then you fully capitalize on the technique of editing perspectives and time much better to deliver a more intriguing story.  Given this was written and directed by the same guy, it is easy how he maybe didn’t consider this rearrange as he was too biased in the straightforward telling of this story.  Yet that is also what makes this film a bit boring.  Editing is a powerful tool when welded by a master story teller, but can sink a good story if not done right.

Thanks for reading ‘Writing Movie ‘WRONGS’.

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