Drew Goddard has become a household Hollywood name due to the success of the many projects he's brought to screen. His credits include The Good Place, The Martian, Cloverfield, World War Z, The Cabin in The Woods, and the ensemble thriller, Bad Times at The El Royale.
Many critics and cinephiles argue that The Cabin in The Woods and Bad Times At The El Royale are his two best works to date, but which of these films is Goddard's best and why?
10 The Cabin In The Woods: Plot
The Cabin in The Woods starts off with the classic horror film trope in which five students hop into a van to drive into the woods for a weekend at a friend's cabin. Within the first 30 minutes, the students encounter a decrepit gas station with an unsavory owner, and this encounter sets the tone for this horror flick.
By no means is this just another generic horror romp, and viewers learn this within five minutes. The cabin itself is revealed to be no ordinary woodland getaway, but instead the location of a diabolical ritual for the five students, who have been carefully selected to be sacrificial lambs to appease the "ancient ones," the gods of old who would bring about suffering upon every soul on earth if it were not for a secret organization appeasing the supernatural entities. The writing is fresh. Despite Goddard revealing a lot in the early parts of the film, there are plenty of pleasantly horrifying scenes to keep even the most hardcore horror fans and casual moviegoers entertained.
9 Bad Times At The El Royale: Plot
Bad Times At The El Royale also features a stellar plot in scale and scope, which the film conveys well while also keeping it relatively contained within the motel's walls. It's a simple plot: a group of strangers, all with secretive pasts, meet at a seedy motel, and as time progresses, their secrets are revealed and they all become embroiled in a bigger conundrum.
When compared to Cabin In The Woods, Goddard's script does well to reveal the plot slowly through character-building flashbacks and a sometimes non-linear script. At times it's a slow burn, but the dialogue and performances, along with the film's many twists, are highly-engrossing and a treat to rewatch.
8 The Cabin In The Woods: Characters
As mentioned above, The Cabin In The Woods characters are, at first, "classic" archetypes: there's the Jock, the Burnout, the Hottie, the Brain, and the Virgin. That being said, each character is fleshed out and given their time to shine onscreen. Chris Hemsworth's Curt Vaughan is a somewhat likable jock, Kristen Connolly plays the "virgin" with her meticulously reserved nature, and Anna Hutchison makes playing the hot girl seem easy.
Jesse Williams plays the handsome geek with a soft and endearing honesty and Fran Kranz's portrayal of Marty Mikalski, the stoner, is perhaps the surprise standout performance of the film. Other characters with notable performances are Steve Hadley, played by Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins' Gary Sitterson, Amy Acker's Wendy Lin, and Brian J. White's performance as Alex Truman.
7 Bad Times At The El Royale: Characters
Bad Time At The El Royale also features a group of stellar characters played by an ensemble cast, including Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, and the amazing Cynthia Erivo. Every character has their own set of secrets revealed through a narrative that sees the film jump from each main character's room to the next, telling their backstory through character-building flashbacks.
No performance in this film is terrible - even the characters who have very little screen time get their time to shine, thanks to Goddard's stellar script and each performer's direction. When compared to The Cabin In The Woods, Bad Times wins solely because of the ensemble cast, who effortlessly bring gravitas to their well-written characters.
6 Bad Times At The El Royale: Cinematography
Despite the film's one location, Bad Times At The El Royale's cinematography is pretty darn amazing to behold. Shot on Kodak 35mm film, the film is another excellent piece of cinematic work from Seamus McGarvey, who's also known for his work on Nocturnal Animals, Atonement, and Life.
5 The Cabin In The Woods: CGI & SFX
Released back in 2012, The Cabin In The Woods still holds up eight years later in its special effects and CGI. The film is a CGI-feast, featuring all kinds of awe-inspiring monsters. Zombies, merfolk, giant snakes, sugarplum fairies, killer clowns, and more are featured in the film's insane, climactic third act.
The cabin and the lab beneath it also feature some stellar set design, and Goddard's action direction, peppered with stellar SFX and CGI, make this film an easy rewatch.
4 Bad Times At The El Royale: Cast
Bad At Times At The El Royale wins this one, as Drew Goddard's star-studded ensemble cast is perhaps one of the film's strongest points. Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, and Cynthia Erivo's breakout role as Darlene Sweet are all played with notable gravitas.
Goddard's direction of the actors shines through with ease and every actor has their time in the spotlight. Many scenes of heavy dialogue between the duos in the cast keep one invested and interested in Goddard's slow reveal of each character's backstory and motivation. The characters are complex in nature, and Goddard's casting means that all of the actors can find their feet in their onscreen personas with ease.
3 The Cabin In The Woods: Script
The Cabin In The Woods is celebrated by film school students, critics, and cinephiles for its script. Goddard's characters are well-written and well introduced, with sharp and witty dialogue.
The plot itself is also well-written, and Goddard reveals the story at the perfect pace to keep audiences entertained. There are no twists, as is the case in stereotypical horror - instead, the only twist is perhaps a "genre-twist," which sees The Truman Show mechanic in the plot revealed early on.
2 Bad Times At The El Royale: Twists
On the other hand, Bad Times At The El Royale, while featuring an exceptionally dialogue-driven script, also has many twists. Goddard introduces each of his characters in a "misdirection" fashion. The characters we meet in the opening scene are vastly different from the characters they're revealed to be.
As the film progresses, we learn more about each character, which, instead of keeping audiences guessing, keeps one interested in the truth behind each character as Goddard reveals them.
1 The Cabin In The Woods: Tropes
Pushing the envelope when it comes to movie tropes is most certainly one of Drew Goddard's biggest strengths, and The Cabin In The Woods does this exceptionally well. Because Goddard's characters appear to be classic archetypes initially, when these tropes are cleverly subverted, it makes the film an easy rewatch.
Kristen Connolly's Dana Polk is one such example. "The Virgin" who has an affair with her college professor, the action survivor goes against the classic trope and outlives most of the characters (at least until the end) and she also surprises everyone when she decides to end Marty's life to save the world. All the main characters go against their classic archetypes: Hemsworth's "The Athlete" trope has way more to him than just being the jock - he's a sociology major who's actually a nice guy at heart, despite the overseers' manipulation of him into the "Jerk Jock" trope.