<em?Oh, if these walls could talk.
You have been on the road for a long time and are weary. The lighted sign ahead beckons you with promises of a warm bed and a good meal. That is not the only thing you are after but you pull in anyways. Once you are inside you can tell that the hotel has certainly seen better days and strangely -Only one employee seems to be on duty.. The other guests seem friendly enough though and you should be okay here for one night.
But you are really not safe here. Each of the guests have their own reasons for being here and tonight is when all of their stories converge at the El Royale. Blood will most certainly spill but before that happens you ought to check out that mirror in your room. Somebody may be watching you.
The El Royale is an old hotel that sits directly over the border between the states of California and Nevada; one could easily step back and forth over the borderline and the place has a sort of dual identity which reflects this theme. (Think of the real Cal Neva Lodge & Casino as an inspiration). Several guests arrive at the hotel on one fateful night and almost all of them have something to hide whether it be the haul from a heist gone wrong long ago or finding evidence of a very prominent person’s sexual misdeeds. It’s a cold-hearted movie at times but it still believes in concepts of redemption and being the person others need you to be.
Writer Drew Goddard (The Martian, Cloverfield) was very likely influenced by Pulp Fiction and Go. The story in Bad Times at the El Royale jumps back and forth between the characters and often revisits earlier scenes from a new perspective. The story is not particularly complicated and so this non-linear storytelling never becomes particularly confusing and – surprisingly – I never felt that any plot element dragged the story down. On the contrary, the script was well paced and I was never bored throughout the film.
Bad Times at the El Royale sits somewhere between the film noir and hard-boiled genres. The hotel itself is wonderfully tacky with all of the charms of late 1960s decor. The movie particularly shines at brutality – characters attack and kill each other with such suddenness that I found myself blinking more than once and marveling at the fluidity of violence.
There is no overabundance of CGI effects in this movie meaning it is carried entirely on the shoulders of the cast – as it should be. Jeff Bridges is fascinating as a man who does not have much longer to live and nothing to lose. If any character in this movie suffers, it is Emily (Dakota Johnson). Her character is largely defined by her relationships with her sister (Cailee Spaeny) and a charismatic cultist (Chris Hemsworth) and it is difficult to see what she is all about other than her protectiveness towards Ruth. Hemsworth seems to be having a lot of fun with his performance and the character of Billy Lee is an odd mix of charismatic and threatening. Cynthia Erivo is the ray of sunshine among the cast as Darlene Sweet – a singer who much like the El Royale itself has seen better days.
Bad Times at the El Royale is twisted at times, often brutal and thoroughly engaging. What the script lacks in logic is made up for by the cast and their enthusiasm. Go ahead and spend a night at the El Royale. Your stay will probably be brief but you will most certainly get what you paid for.