Times at the El Royale
This is a gritty, hard-edged movie with a lot of up-close violence,
but juxtaposed with plenty of irony. Though
Chris Hemsworth gets top billing, because of his natural star power, the
iconic Jeff Bridges gets most of the screen time.
And he does “bizarre” really well.
We begin with one still camera, panning a hotel room.
A man enters, fidgets, takes out a pistol to lay it on the dresser,
and proceeds to roll up the carpet, move the furniture, pry open the
floorboards, and hide a suitcase. Then
he puts everything back where he found it (we fast forward through most of
it), and then, finally, somebody knocks at the door.
But his entrance is more dramatic than we anticipated.
And in the background is some lively 50's music to help pinpoint
Now it's 10 years later. Same hotel, right on the State line
between Nevada and California. In
fact, the hotel's lone employee, Miles (Lewis Pullman), with a grand
flourish, introduces the unique bi-State aspect, and is also quietly
insistent that they pay $8 each for a room and 25 cents for the coffee.
He looks harmless, but remember nothing here is as it appears.
The man who introduces himself as a traveling salesman of vacuum
cleaners (Jon Hamm), and puts on a phony Southern accent, is actually a
federal agent. He finds an
astounding number of recording devices hidden in his room, and figures
they must be all over the motel. The
guy who's dressed like a priest (Jeff Bridges) doesn't really look or act
like one. We later get some
backstory on him which gives us a clue about his real identity, and what
he might be doing at that hotel, but he also gets a big surprise from the
third guest, Darlene (Cynthia Erivo), who has a beautiful voice, and
claims to be a professional singer on her way to Reno. Here's another
opportunity to both play the jukebox for pop tunes (think Motown hits) and
juxtapose a happy soundtrack as backdrop to some deceitful characters.
The fourth hotel guest, Emily (Dakota Johnson) appears to be
kidnapping someone, but it also seems it's someone she knows. Rose (Cailee
Spaeny) looks like the victim here, but she may not be as innocent as she
Enter the villain, Thor. Or
at least the actor who's played Thor enough that we're not at all
surprised to see how ripped he is with his shirt off, which is most of the
time. Here, though, Chris
Hemsworth is not the hero, but the bad guy, the Charles-Manson-like leader
of some kind of hippie cult that he controls with a mesmerizing
combination of persuasive speaking and personal dominance and yes, a kind
of mind control over a group of weak-minded people clearly lost and
We find out that all the mirrors in the rooms are actually two-way,
which opens up the possibility of all kinds of perversion, but this isn't
prurient. We're too busy
playing a strange form of Russian roulette with a real roulette wheel,
while the jukebox continues to play 60's Motown hits.
We all know this isn't going to end with happily ever after for
everybody. But after a while
we wonder if it's going to produce a happy ending for anybody.
But in the midst of all the raging carnage, there is an incredible
moment of redemption in the ruins. Absolution
asked and granted. It's a
breathlessly spiritual moment in the middle of a godless brawl.
“Bad Times at the El Royale” is not for the faint of heart.
But for the more adventurous moviegoer, it's a high-impact,
Tarantino-like bundle of serial shockers, nestled into the menacingly
casual, and seasoned with classic soul music.