A brilliant blend of mystery and murder, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is an engaging movie that follows seven shifty strangers who converge at a once thriving hotel over the course of one night.
It’s a great setup, as the film begins with a mysterious flashback to 1958, where an anxious guest hastily buries a duffel bag beneath the floorboards of his room. Later that night, someone pays him a visit and shoots him dead. Who is he? Why was he there and what did he bury beneath the boards?
Fast forward to 1969 and those questions are slowly revealed as we are introduced to several hotel guests who include Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), a soul singer with money worries, Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an old and rather demented priest who appears rather anxious and fidgety and Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a pompous traveling salesman with the gift of the gab. There’s also Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), a hippie with a bad attitude, Chris Hemsworth, an enigmatic cult leader called Billy Lee and the hotel resort’s 20-year-old sole employee, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) who is a bit of an odd character.
Over the course of the evening, the plot thickens as we learn more about the guests and as further characters are slowly trickled in the tension builds. Each guest has a hidden agenda and a reason for passing through the ram shackled hotel, which was once a glorious resort, but has since fallen—like its visitors—into disrepute.
Ominous and mysterious, it’s fun to watch the stellar ensemble play their parts. The charismatic Hamm, who plays the seedy Southern salesman is entertaining with his rambling monologues. Father Flynn (Bridges) with his ill-fitting collar offers clues that he may not be who he claims to be and the first time we meet Miller (Pullman), it’s clear that he has plenty to hide. Although every one of the thesps make a strong impression and truly immerse themselves in their individual scenes, the film’s shining star is Erivo (Broadway’s “The Color Purple”) who gets to showcase not just her acting but her outstanding vocal skills.
With several guests, one strange host along with many more twists, turns and secrets, no one is entirely innocent in this stylishly violent thriller.
Director and writer Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”) perfectly stacks the deck with crazy and dangerously exciting characters and offers a fresh, unique movie laced with sinister humor.
It’s a complex and chaotic drama with a claustrophobic feel, which certainly hooks you in, as except for flashbacks to the characters’ backstories, all the action takes place at the El Royale hotel.
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