What happens when you take seven people, all with their own dark baggage, and put them in a hotel with a dark history of its own? You get Bad Times At The El Royale.
This movie really surprised me with the amount of depth it was able to achieve. It’s a mystery thriller that grapples with the concepts of religion, God, and right and wrong. Since it takes place in the 1960s and 70s, it even has references to Charles Manson and other political dealings that were going on at the time.
With one of the main characters posing as a priest, religious discussions are bound to come up, and they do often. Each of the main characters are given varying amounts of depth, but we get to see that they are each complicated and conflicted characters, trying to achieve personal gain. Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has a complicated relationship with the church, for instance, and we see the way he handles this internal struggle of right versus wrong throughout the movie.
But past the themes is a Pulp Fiction-style story. We see events happening to different people, but then they all intersect at different points, showing how these stories are intertwined. All the while, there is a MacGuffin that we never completely learn about. The first half or so of this structure is very intriguing. It’s easily the best part of the movie – the setup is well-done. But it starts to fall apart once Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) shows up as the main villain.
Even though the movie starts to stumble at the end, Hemsworth shows off a new and impressive side of his acting. He does a great job at being the subtle, brooding, and evil villain. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he gets more roles like this going forward, where he can flesh out the character a little bit more.
The rest of the cast does a good enough job, but Hemsworth and newcomer Lewis Pullman are easily the standouts. Pullman plays Miles, who works at the El Royale and does just about everything there. The deeper we get into his character, the more he is able to bring out emotion and conflicting thoughts, and the more he is able to impress.
I’ve also complained about editing in movies a lot recently, but the editing and cinematography here was great. I simply enjoyed watching this movie due to the visuals alone.
Overall, Bad Times At The El Royale is a solid film. It won’t be looked at as one of the best of the year, but what it lacks in achievement, it makes up for in aspirations. It should be at least commended for doing that much.