Writer & director Drew Goddard avoids the sophomore slump with the fantastic Bad Times at The El Royale from Twentieth Century Fox. 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 the last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell. The seven strangers include a priest, a singer, a salesman, a bellboy, two sisters, and a cult leader.
The film opens with a subtle nuance with a man doing mysterious things inside a hotel room, which we later learn is the burial of money. Moments later the man is shot dead and we fast forward ten years later to begin a wild cinematic ride of twists and turns. The first two strangers we meet are Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and lounge singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), followed by salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and bellboy Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). Later hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) shows up, and each of the guests is given a room by Lewis.
What follows is a stylish introduction to each character’s backstory and their motivation for staying at the El Royale. Goddard makes the wise choice to grace the screen with the Room Number each guest is staying in while cross-cutting it with the location of where the character originated from. I enjoyed this aspect as later in the film when the characters come together it makes perfect sense.
The character I enjoyed the most would have to be Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo). Fresh off a Tony Win, Cynthia Erivo was a joy to watch on screen. From her angelic singing voice to a moment where tells off Chris Hemsworth’s cult leader she truly has the breakout role in the film. I also enjoyed her chemistry with all of her male counterparts. While she does have the most screen time with Jeff Bridges’ Daniel Flynn, she does share impressive moments with everyone else.
Chris Hemsworth also impresses as Billy Lee a cult leader who has a connection to Emily (Dakota Johnson). In recent years Hemsworth has shown great range outside of Thor, with his comedic work, and in his first villain role, he’s quite good. I also enjoyed Lewis Pullman as the bellboy. Pullman who is on the verge of breaking out any day now portrays the bellboy in a tragic way and I genuinely felt for his character.
While Goddard’s script is good, I did find the characters of Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) and her sister Ruth (Callie Spaeny) to be underwritten. The acting is fine by both ladies, however, I just wanted a bit more with their backstory and how they got involved with Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth).
Bad Times at The El Royale is the perfect follow up to Drew Godard’s vastly underrated debut The Cabin in The Woods. With a nearly two and a half hour run time, Bad Times at The El Royale never drags and keeps you guessing with every plot twist. If you’re looking for a movie full of twists, then definitely check into Bad Times at The El Royale.
Final Grade A