Bad Times at the El Royale is a neo-noir thriller by Drew Goddard. The timeline is set in 1969 and it is primarily about seven strangers who lodge in the El Royale casino overnight. The casino rests on the California-Nevada border. Half of the casino is in California and half is in Nevada. The price of rooms, gambling rules, and even the price of drinks are different in both parts of the casino. The opening scene is of a man who hides a duffle bag in one of the rooms in the casino. Shortly after he hides the bag, someone comes in and kills him. Ten years later, some people check into the same hotel and all of them have dark secrets. The main characters in the movie are Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, and Chris Hemsworth.
Part of the inspiration for the movie comes from Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva Resort & Casino which has a swimming pool that splits between California and Nevada. Drew Goddard handled the writing, directing, and even producing of the movie. So, it’s not a surprise that there are many secrets and plot twists throughout the movie. However, the movie isn’t as interesting as Goddard’s previous movies and it got a lot of criticism because of the long runtime which spans out to about 2 hours 21 minutes. Since only a few scenes were action-packed, watching the movie for two long hours can be boring.
The soul music soundtrack in the movie was interesting so it spiced up the otherwise gloomy scenes. Most of the scenes from the 2 hours 21 minutes were replays, backtracking, and painstakingly self-indulgent. Several scenes were played from different perspectives on different occasions to reveal a larger conspiracy. The conspiracy involved the guests, the hotel staff and owners, and some guests that never showed up in the movie. While allowing the audience to use their imagination is an effective literary device in movies, the Bad Times at El Royale depended too much on this. They revealed little information about the conspiracy until the end leaving viewers guessing about what is happening in almost every scene. By doing this, Goddard is implying that our imagination is better than his film idea and some people argue that it’s true.
Bad Times at El Royale
From the title of the movie, you can tell that there is going to be a lot of tragedy in the hotel or at least the guests aren’t going to have the best time of their lives. First of all, the casino isn’t exactly full of guests. It looks partly deserted when the first four guests arrive. The receptionist is wearing a cheap suit with soft stylish hair and he doesn’t look enthusiastic about working in the hotel. He tries his best to answer questions as he checks the guests into their respective rooms. The first set of people to visit the casino were Darlene Sweet, a black American soul singer, a former criminal who is now an Irish priest (father Daniel Flynn), a white woman, Emily Summerspring, who is willing to check into any room and brings a secret hostage with her. Miles Miller, the hotel manager, isn’t present when the guests arrive but he shows up later in the movie. When he shows up, his back story also proves that appearances can be deceiving since he acts nothing as he looks.
Even after all the customers check into the hotel, there is no way for the audience to determine if they were invited to the hotel or they came on their own. Even if some of the conspiracies were explained eventually, the writer never gave a clear answer to the opening scene of the movie. Viewers were left with questions at the end of the movie and this is kind of frustrating. Goddard’s transition from a single room in the hotel to the entire hotel is impressive but it would have made more sense if there was a satisfactory explanation to the events that happened in that room.
Father Flynn arrives in the hotel around the same time the soul singer, Darlene. The priest starts a conversation with Sweet at the drop off point and offers to help her carry her luggage. They chat briefly as they walk into the reception. They also say a few things about the interior design of the hotel. The hotel has a mid-century crimson-and-gold look with automat-style dining and mod fixtures. The salesman has a lot of cover stories lined up to explain the current condition of the hotel. All the guests have cover stories that conceal their true identity and their real motive for visiting the hotel. The only person who doesn’t bother to use an alias or a cover story is Summerspring. When asked about herself or her reason for visiting the hotel, Summerspring quickly deflects. Even when she was about to have a misunderstanding over a room with another visitor, she quickly settles the issue by accepting any other room in the hotel just to prevent further questions.
In Goddard’s attempt to keep viewers in suspense, he takes advantage of our natural curiosity. He should have at least revealed some details about the characters at the beginning of the story rather than leaving everyone in suspense. When natural curiosity isn’t satisfied in the name of suspense, a movie loses its appeal. It’s no wonder the movie did poorly on its opening weekend in the box office. The budget for the movie was 32 million but only 31.9 million was made from box office ticket sales which is a big disappointment. Granted, he was trying to shine some light on the scandalous history of the original Cal Neva Resort & Casino. There have been many conspiracy theories surrounding the casino and things got even worse when the resort was purchased by mobsters in 1960. They added a tunnel system to the resort and there were rumors that the famous Marilyn Monroe died in one of those tunnels. Some others claim that the resort used to be a recreational center for public figures.
Another thing that upset viewers is that Chris Hemsworth was used for the cover of the movie but his character (Billy Lee) was introduced toward the end of the movie. He was a cult leader who is always topless. Hemsworth chiseled abs is something all the ladies, and some guys were looking forward to viewing in the movie. In most of his scenes in the movie, Hemsworth’s scenes were primarily made up of him saying strange things and mad ramblings. However, he brought in some much-needed action to the movie.
On a scale of one to ten, Bad Times at El Royale scores a 6. This is above average but nothing near what we expected from a movie that generated as much hype as it did. If the storyline was shorter and the writer was more generous with information in the first half of the movie, it would have scored at least 8. It was Goddard’s first attempt at writing non-horror mystery but it didn’t get half as much praise as “A Cabin in the Woods”. A Cabin in the Woods, which was released in 2012 generated over 66 million from box office sales alone. This is more than two times the budget for the movie. You also can’t compare Bad Times at El Royale to other Goddard movies like The Martian, Cloverfield, and others. This is why it is currently among the least popular or successful movies despite the attractive cast.