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Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review

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Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review

4 beers

Nothing in Bad Times at the El Royale is as it seems. Not the story, not the characters, not even the hotel itself as it sits astraddle the Nevada-California state line and wears the duality of its colliding worlds of past and present as a cherished badge of honor. Once the playground of the rich and famous, the hotel now sits mostly empty save for the hotel’s sole employee who meets visitors with outstretched arms as he delivers his “offers warmth and sunshine to the west; hope and opportunity to the east” spiel.

One thing that is as it seems, however is that the run-down hotel is the perfect place for a string of shady outcasts to pop in and stir up a whole lot of trouble. And that’s exactly what happens in Drew Goddard’s Bad Times at the El Royale, a moody little neo-noirish crime thriller with a period style and swanky verve that plays nicely against the black-hearted humor woven deeply within its DNA.

"Hemsworth very nearly steals the show in a dangerously sexy performance that oozes with both endearing charm and intimidating menace"

In spite of its many moving parts and shifting chronology, the plot is actually a quite simple one. In fact Hitchcock simple, even. But it is the way in which Goddard unfolds his story’s intricacies with delayed revelations and interlocking timelines which loop back on themselves that mark his biggest success. In fact, it is quite remarkable that Goddard – in only his second directorial effort (Cabin in the Woods) – manages to keep such a firm grasp on all the teetering machinations of his script. Lose control of the many spinning plates, and the entire house of cards comes crashing down in a pile of good intentions. Fortunately, he doesn’t. And as a result, we’re treated to a most haunting visit to what might very well be one of the most dangerous hotels in the West.

As the film opens, we see a quick vignette of a man pulling up the floorboards of his hotel room and dropping a bag into the crawl space before hurriedly returning the room to its previous state. Flash forward to some time in the mid-‘60s when we meet our characters one by one as they arrive in the hotel’s lobby where the glitz and glamour of better days have come to a close.

There’s bodacious traveling southern vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (a Foghorn Leghorn-channeling Jon Hamm), Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who is battling the early stages of dementia and memory loss, soul singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), who has an appointment the next day with hopes of making that next step to musical stardom, and hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) who is on the run for some reason with her sister Rose (Cailee Spaeny) in tow. The initial guests are met by the aforementioned hotel’s bellhop/concierge/manager Miles (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill Pullman) who, despite his fresh-faced wholesomeness is clearly working for someone in much greater power.

Who these characters actually are and what they are all doing at the hotel is best left up to your own discovery. But let’s just say that only one of them is actually who they say they are. The enjoyment comes from watching their individual stories unfold and how they all become entangled in each other’s business. Huge kudos to Goddard for his innovative storytelling techniques that often show the same segment from the perspective of several different characters as their dealings criss-cross one another. He divides the tale up into chapters, each bookended with a title card of the corresponding room - room five, room one, etc.

Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review

There’s a lot of danger lurking within the walls of the El Royale (quite literally, actually), and each intertwined story harbors its own set of dilemmas. But it is when yet another guest shows up at the hotel that things get really interesting. The revelation of a mysterious sex tape discovered in the hotel serves as a MacGuffin that turns conversations into a lengthy brimstone speech and nail-biting game of truth or dare by a mysterious Charles Manson-like character named Billy Lee – in the person off Chris Hemsworth. He carries the film’s themes of duality to the next level as each character’s personal notions about good vs. evil or wrong vs. right are put to the test. Hemsworth very nearly steals the show in a dangerously sexy performance that oozes with both endearing charm and intimidating menace. His scenes are some of the most “out there” in the entire film, and are some of the wackiest that this year’s slate of films to date have to offer. He’s that good here.

Bad Times at El Royale has many things to say about a lot of not-so-good things that happen in our world. But its coup de grâce is the stylish way in which Goddard brings them to the screen. Bad Times at the El Royale packs a hell of an emotional wallop and delivers a dangerous good time at the movies. Despite the danger that lurks around nearly every turn, I wouldn’t hesitate to return for another stay at the El Royale.

Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity.
141 mins
: Drew Goddard
Drew Goddard
Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm
: Thriller | Mystery
All roads lead here.
Memorable Movie Quote: "offers warmth and sunshine to the west; hope and opportunity to the east"
Theatrical Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Official Site:
Release Date:
November 16, 1976
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 12, 2018
Synopsis: Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe's El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption - before everything goes to hell.

Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review


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Bad Times at the El Royale - Movie Review

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