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The Rome Film Fest kicked off Thursday night with the Italian premiere of Bad Times at the El Royale, with writer-director Drew Goddard and star Cailee Spaeny presenting the film at a special gala event.
In the movie, seven strangers meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale hotel over the course of one night in the 1960s and things go from odd to bad to worse. The film is about constant duality where nothing (including the actual hotel) and no one (including each and every guest) is what they appear to be. The all-star cast also includes Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm and Chris Hemsworth.
Although Goddard started writing the film five years ago, he said there are parallels to the #MeToo movement happening now, with his story shining light on abuses of power.
Erivo plays an up-and-coming soul singer, Darlene Sweet, who is assaulted by a record producer early on in her career, an experience which has a great impact on her life. Hemsworth plays a Charles Manson-like cult leader who takes pleasure in owning and tormenting women, including Spaeny’s character Rose Summerspring, who will follow him to the ends of the earth.
“It was not meant to be a direct comment on what’s happening right now because I started it awhile ago,” Goddard told The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately the evils that we are witnessing in this world are nothing new: toxic masculinity, sexism, racism. These are things we’ve been dealing with for centuries now. If anything, I am heartened by the fact that we are now shining the light and making small bits of progress.
“But grander themes we’re dealing with, these issues that were relevant in the ’60s are still unfortunately relevant today, and Bad Times is very much about how these evils are very present and will continue to be,” he continued, “and we must keep fighting them at every turn.”
In terms of more films being made today about Manson and cults in general, Goddard believes they are a clear response to the current state of the world. “We’re dealing with these men who prey upon the weak and the innocent,” he said. “And Manson represented that. I don’t think it’s an accident that we see him coming up again right now, because there is a lot of toxic masculinity in this world.”
Goddard, who also serves as an executive producer of NBC’s hit show The Good Place, which revolves around a woman (Kristen Bell) who struggles in the afterlife to define what it means to be good, said there are also clear connections between the two works.
“What’s interesting is I was working on The Good Place and this [film] at the same time. In my mind, both Bad Times and The Good Place are two sides of the same coin,” he said. “They’re both about characters struggling to be better people and trying to figure out what it means to be a better person. One is a very broad comedy, the other is a dark noir. But at the core, they are about characters.”
When asked if the show, with its constant twists, can continue to keep audiences on their toes, Goddard responded: “I’ve always said I don’t really care about twists and turns. I care about escalation. I care about characters being put in a vise and squeezed. With The Good Place, I think it can go on forever. As long as we’re still excited to do it, because it’s about those people and I just want to watch those people.”
The Rome Film Fest continues through Oct. 28.
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