Bad Times At The El Royale
By Dave Kibbler
It’s a tale as old as cinema itself. Strangers are thrown together by circumstance, each with their own secrets, and we learn their secrets bit by bit. Despite that familiarity, there’s something distinctly original about how that story unfolds in “Bad Times at the El Royale”. Seven strangers come together for one fateful night in the early 70s at an isolated Tahoe hotel that has seen better days. There’s the vacuum cleaner salesman (John Hamm) who is doing another kind of sweeping. There’s the priest (Jeff Bridges) who seeks salvation of a different sort. Throw in a nightclub singer (Cynthia Ervo), a hippie and her sister (Dakota Johnson and Cailee Spaeny), a crazed cult leader (Chris Hemsworth) and a very nervous manager/caretaker (Lewis Pullman), and you have seven souls in search of uniquely personal redemption.
The movie is broken up into acts based upon which room the guests are staying in at the El Royale. Eventually the acts overlap until we come to the culmination of the journey (for most) over a roulette table. Director, producer and screenwriter Drew Goddard tells the story of the same scenes from different characters’ points of view, and the result is a mesmerizing blend of drama, comedy and violence. Lots of violence.
The isolation of the woods around the El Royale heightens the tension throughout. Each performance hits the right notes for the characters, with Hemsworth’s cult leader Billy Lee being a bit over the top even as far a 70s cult leader goes. Themes of the era (racial tension, Anti-Establishment feelings, Vietnam, lost youth searching for identity) all have their parts to play in this tantalizing tale.
As solid as the storytelling is, the soundtrack is even better. Much of the music in the film is supplied by Cynthia Ervo’s singing sensation Darlene Sweet. Sweet sings many numbers a capella, and her voice is as captivating as the Motown and gospel mix of tunes chosen for inclusion. And the singing also serves to advance the plot in a most unusual way. I predict great things ahead for this British songbird.
“Bad Times At The El Royale” has more twists and turns than a mountain roadway. It is rated R for language and violence. Graphic, bloody violence.
The characters at the El Royale may experience one awful night, but you’ll spend a most enjoyable evening watching “Bad Times at the El Royale”. Four stars out of five.