Bad Times at the El Royale is the perfect example of storytelling that’s able to captivate the audience, keep them guessing, and deliver something that is strange and thrilling, but still enjoyable.
Directed and written by Drew Goddard, who also brought us The Cabin in the Woods, Bad Times at the El Royale establishes a tale with six different storylines. Each of these storylines revolves around a different character who finds themselves at the hotel for one reason or another. But, as their stories intersect, these guests soon discover something much more sinister is happening around them.
Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is an aging old-man who has arrived at the El Royale for some unresolved business. Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) is just passing through for the night on her way to do some work. Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) is a traveling salesman and gives an impressive spiel when he meets Father Flynn and Darlene upon checking in to the hotel. Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) is a mystery at first until the story turns for the worst. Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is the young hotel attendant tasked with overseeing and managing the day-to-day operations of the El Royale. And, finally, there’s Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), the young cult leader.
At first, it’s a lot to take in. Different people, personalities, motives, and questions. But it all comes together, and these characters are forced to interact with each other until it’s time to check out.
Not everybody is who they claim to be. Not everybody has the best intentions. Some are just trying to keep to themselves, while others seek redemption and help from wherever they can get it.
Bad Times takes a great risk by trying to include so many different characters and stories into one film, but it pays off. At nearly two and a half hours, the movie moves right along and never finds itself stuck or lingering too long on one scene or character. Time passes by effectively and each character is adequately portrayed.
The two performances that steal the show come from Lewis Pullman and Chris Hemsworth.
Pullman, in his portrayal of Miles Miller, convinces the audience of his character’s need for redemption and salvation. The details of Miller’s life and actions are revealed later in the film so I won’t go into detail here, but Pullman delivers some of the most emotional scenes of the story and it’s hard not to empathize with him. This young actor did a phenomenal job.
Chris Hemsworth, too, does excellent work with this project. As a tall, handsome, Manson-esque cult leader, his scenes are some of the most interesting, and even mesmerizing, to watch.
It’s also worth mentioning the film’s soundtrack. Each song, either through the jukebox or sung by a character, is well placed and time that it really benefits the story as a whole. There is one scene, in particular, involving Darlene Sweet and Father Flynn where singing becomes essential to what they’re doing.
Bad Times at the El Royale is one of the highlights of 2018 and will be remembered for its effective use of storytelling.