“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a noir crime thriller that is reminiscent of “Pulp Fiction.” The location, atmosphere and mystery of the movie are intriguing, but the movie takes to many twists and drags along for the entirety of the two and a half hour run time.
The movie opens on a wide shot of a hotel room, a man enters clearly troubled by something. The camera stays in place as the screen cuts between scenes of the man removing the carpet, placing something under the floorboards, then putting everything back in place. The man then takes a bullet and the movie cuts forward 10 years.
The rest of the story takes place over one evening in the late 1960’s at The El Royale, a novelty motel that straddles the Nevada and California border. This places a red line running directly through the middle of the motel, creating an interesting dichotomy in the setting of the movie. Now enter the four main characters and the new guests at The El Royale.
Jeff Bridges stars as Father Daniel Flynn, an aging priest that has begun to lose his memory. Playing alongside him is Cynthia Erivo, who portrays Darlene Sweet, a backup singer on her way to a solo gig in Reno. Playing supporting roles are Jon Hamm as a sexist vacuum salesman, and Dakota Johnson, as a crass southern hippie. The quirky bellhop, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), that oversees the motel, rounds off this eclectic cast of characters.
These four random strangers each came to The El Royale toting around secrets along with their luggage. Each one has an ulterior motive that they are trying to protect. Their paths begin to cross and twist with one another as the movie progresses. The hotels dark history begins to be unraveled and revealed adding an extra layer to the mystery. We see the night unfold from the perspective of each character and quickly realize that nothing is as it seems at this motel.
The film was written and directed by Drew Goddard, most famously known for his horror suspense film, “The Cabin in the Woods.” It is clear that Goddard is drawing inspiration from Quentin Tarantino in “Bad Times at the El Royale.” The way the plot switches back and forth between characters until they all match up for the final scene builds the suspense in a clever way, but then the movie seems to grind to a near stop and gets caught up in all the plot that was originally introduced. This film, unlike many others, is not lacking in plot, it is overflowing with too much plot and not enough time to explain it to the audience.
The cinematography and soundtrack are the shining stars in this production. Visually, the movie is quite stunning. The color palette of reds and greens that wash over the screen sets the murky, dark tone of the movie. While the soundtrack cements the period and accompanies the action on screen perfectly.
Overall the movie “Bad Times at the El Royale” is initially intriguing and does well building the suspense through the first half of the film. Unfortunately, the ending does nothing to explain the plot or tie up loose ends. It feels like a mystery that was only 75 percent solved. The characters, setting and cinematography make this movie a decent watch, but the movie falls short of a must-see film and leaves the audience walking away feeling unsatisfied.