Scott Marks noon, Jan. 11
Bad Times at the El Royale
In 2012, writer-director Drew Goddard took a bunch of teens to a Cabin in the Woods for a rollicking nightmare subversion of the horror genre. Here, he takes a bunch of strangers — Jeff Bridges’ confused cleric, Jon Hamm’s slick salesman, Dakota Johnson’s haughty hippie, and Cynthia Erivo’s suffering singer, for starters — to a remote motel for a much more sincere but equally considered take on a familiar theme. Of course, the theme being what it is — secrets laid bare and bodies laid out over the course of one long and rainy night — there’s still plenty of “nothing is as it seems” at the outset, so we haven't strayed too far from the previous film's cabin. (Hamm’s strained southern accent is your first clue.) The opening scene encapsulates his approach: the camera holds on a haggard man arriving in his dim motel room, moving the furniture, rolling up the carpet, pulling up the floorboards, hiding a satchel, restoring everything, and then sitting down to wait for what’s next, all set to a cheerful tune about escaping to an island paradise. The rest of the film is prettier to look at — Goddard is clearly a man who views his setting as a character, and he has a winner in his bifurcated getaway, half in California, half in Nevada — but built along the same lines: careful framing, mysterious characters, slow builds, violent surprises, and a dynamite parade of very nearly on-the-nose songs from the mid- to late-1960s. 2018.