By Ben Solomon
Bad Times at the El Royale is a mystery thriller directed and written Drew Goddard. It has an all star cast. Jeff Bridges as Donald O’Kelly, Cynthia Erivo as Darlene Sweet, Jon Hamm as Laramie Seymour Sullivan, Lewis Pullman as Miles Miller, Dakota Johnson as Emily Summerspring, Cailee Spaeny as Rose Summerspring, and Chris Hemsworth as Billy Lee.
The El Royale sits on the border of Nevada and California with half the hotel in California and the other half in Nevada. The hotel’s hayday is far behind as it entered the 70s with the hotel losing its Nevada gambling license. It’s severely understaffed with Miles Miller working as the concierge bartender and as the caretaker who is struggling with the weight of the secrets that the hotel has, he looks for redemption from the elderly priest Donald O’Kelly who arrives in tandem with the soul singer Darlene Sweet, Vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan and the mysterious foul-mouthed Emily Summerspring. While right as you think you begin to understand these characters the audience begins to pace their motivations more characters are introduced. Emily’s younger sister Rose Summerspring and the charismatic Manson family like cult leader Billy Lee.
It is evident that these characters are not all what they seem, this is how the movie keeps you interested, by slowly stripping away the facade these characters have set up. Each scene feels like its own movie with a slow build up to a dramatic climax that ends in a cliffhanger. Goddard also employs an interesting tactic where an ending of one scene will be shown and the following scene will have the same ending albeit from a different viewpoint giving the ending more depth sometimes answering questions while also raising more.
Before I saw the movie, I assumed it would be similar to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and his most recent movie The Hateful Eight. What I mean by this I expected the movie to be within one room while being heavily dialogue driven and having many flashbacks. I was half correct in my prediction, while yes, the story was mostly dialogue which was exquisitely written, and flashbacks are commonly shown to provide context to major character revelations. The thing I got wrong however is the fact that the movie is not in one claustrophobic room, although the El Royale has many rooms that are in disrepair doesn’t mean the movie is shot all in one place. There is more than meet the eye in the hotel, twisting corridors with dark secrets.
Even if the movie was shot in one room the acting alone would still carry it. Jeff Bridges stole the show as well as Lewis Pullman, Pullman is up and coming and this his first major role in a large production, his performance blew me away.
In Conclusion Bad Times at the El Royale is an excellent thriller movie, a genre that I feel that Hollywood has neglected for a long time. The acting and writing really made the movie. My only complaint would be that the camera work was a bit stagnant at time and one or two scenes are dragged out just a little too long in for the sake of generating tension to the point that it’s just annoying instead of suspenseful, but this is a minor nitpick. At the end of the day I wholeheartedly recommend going and seeing this movie, which I give an 8/10.