THIS slickly made slice of neo-noir pulp fiction from writer-director Drew Goddard has endless tricks up its sleeve and lots of rugs to pull from under you, with a wry smile and a twinkle in its eye as it goes.

An intriguing prologue sets things up nicely for our proper introduction in 1969 to the rundown but charming hotel of the title which offers something unique.

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It crosses state lines, meaning guests have the choice of a room in Nevada or California – a clever stylistic tactic by Goddard to engrain their conflicting natures, fractured morality, distinct personalities and clandestine goals. We meet the various folks who will be checking in (with both luggage and baggage) on one fateful night: ageing priest Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), struggling lounge singer Darlene (Cynthia Erivo), travelling salesman Laramie (Jon Hamm) and no-nonsense Southern criminal Emily (Dakota Johnson). Why are they there and what do they have in common?

Goddard – who wrote the likes of The Martian, Cloverfield and The Cabin in the Woods – has created a bold, playful film that feels bathed in the very essence of noir cinema and all the delicious unravelling of mysteries it has to offer. Even if it overindulges with a near two-and-a half-hour runtime, it’s a joy to spend time wrapping yourself up in the sense of secrecy and too-cool-for-school retro atmosphere so potently conjured. It’s really well staged in a setting that, like Hotel Artemis earlier in the year, feels authentically lived-in even as it bursts with idiosyncrasies.

As it jumps back and forth in time, it becomes an entertaining game of “who can we trust?” as a delightfully eclectic cast bounce off one another with zippy dialogue and games of wit. Goddard uses this series of misfits to explore some larger themes, from the seemingly unattainable American dream to the weight of war on the young men sent to fight in Vietnam. It maybe doesn’t quite get a handle on all that throws up in the air but there’s an uncommon thematic richness, and a fascinatingly dark heart plus what might in other hands have faded into the background noise of Tarantino-wannabes.

The first two-thirds have enough colourful life to fill a dozen films of this ilk but it doubles down in the third act as Chris Hemsworth appears, clearly having a whale of a time as a self-righteous and domineering figure that allows the film to further explore the darkness that lies in its foundations.

Colourful, unpredictable and injected with a potent cocktail of shocks and jet black laughs, it’s a thrill to watch the bad times it promises unfold with such panache.