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article imageReview: ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ will shock its spellbound audience Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 13, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is an inventive narrative that keeps viewers on their toes, while also drawing them to characters with whom they wouldn’t normally want to engage.
There are many types of venues that gather strangers into a single spot, each with their own stories that briefly intersect for this comparatively brief and forgettable period of time. Whether they’re attending for food, lodging, business, entertainment or some combination, the reason for congregating can also be inconsequential and just a matter of necessity or obligation. But occasionally something extraordinary (or extraordinarily horrific) occurs that forever links these people to each other, intertwining their narratives in a manner no one expected when they crossed the threshold. This is what happens when patrons check-in in for Bad Times at the El Royale.
Lake Tahoe’s El Royale hotel is located on the Nevada/California border, which is represented by a line that runs straight through the property, inside and out. Each side has its own amenities and restrictions based on state laws, including different rules regarding liquor and gambling. The nearly deserted hotel just got four new guests and they each carry a bag of secrets: Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges); Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), who brings her own bedrolls; Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a blustering travelling salesman; and Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), who doesn’t look easily pushed around. Sadly, the young hotel manager, Miles (Lewis Pullman), has no idea this will probably be his last day on the job once all their chickens come home to roost.
The hotel appears to be fashioned after the Cal Neva Resort & Casino, which was similarly situated and formerly owned by entertainers Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. While the setting is inspired by real-life, the fictional narrative doesn’t seem entirely out of place at the once-scandalous lodge either. Set in 1969, the story has a lot of twists and turns, as well as a couple of genuinely unexpected surprises as people come and go, and their numbers swell and shrink. Each guest has arrived with an objective that’s best handled if they stay out of each other’s way, but that’s seemingly easier said than done… particularly once Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) arrives.
This review is purposely vague because this movie is best experienced cold — don’t even watch the trailer that’s posted at the top. A cross between a Quentin Tarantino movie (particularly Four Rooms and Pulp Fiction) and Vacancy, writer/director Drew Goddard enjoys making films that deliver the unexpected in unconventional ways. To some extent, the picture is structured as a group of vignettes based on the guest’s room number with an extended opening and closing sequence. In spite of being 141 minutes, there is nothing that can really be cut from film and have it still make sense or work as well as it does. Still, because the stories are somewhat stacked it does feel a little lengthy in the middle, but it’s totally worth it.
The standout cast each perfectly conveys their characters as they deliver excellent performances that will not only engage audiences, but cause them to care about these individuals even though they’re not all the nicest people. Moreover, even if Hemsworth may have been miscast in this role, which is debatable, no one else could’ve done that seductive/unsettling dance as well as him.
Director: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo and Dakota Johnson
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