A vacuum-cleaner salesman, a priest, and a backing vocalist walk into a shady hotel, each harbouring a secret. The fact that this could be the set-up for a joke clues us in to the slippery tone of writer-director Drew Goddard’s work. ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’s sort of like everything I do,’ Goddard tells Variety, ‘It falls into a “hard to classify” genre.’ While resisting classification, I’d say that the genre Bad Times is most clearly flirting with is film noir.
Whether or not you have an affinity for noir might depend on how you feel about rain. Why is it always raining? Is it because the rain is isolating, making it plausible that no-one else is around? Is it the perfect backdrop for cruel and vicious acts? Is it simply because, at night, a wet pavement looks cooler than a dry one, in low-key lighting? Obscuring one’s vision, does rain suggest more than meets the eye? You might think rain is a dull cliché best kept in the clouds. Or, like me, you might see rain as essential to the hazy, iterative nature of noir, a genre whose discrete fictions emerge from the same shadows of the same alleyways of the same hopeless town, where it is always raining. Like me, you might not go to noir looking for hard-won human truths, but to sleuth in recycled tropes, seeing how the shadows on the sidelines can shine a spotlight on corruption and injustice in our society. Settle in!