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Review: ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’: A Good Time for Viewers

Kimberley French & 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Initially when viewing the trailer for Bad Times at the El Royale I thought of the film Identity (2003). The latter is a thriller as opposed to Royale that’s more of a film noir with thriller-like tendencies. The Royale is a grand tourist attraction and a hotel that should be on everyone’s radar. If the guests further inspected the hotel they would learn this is far worse than anything produced in the film Vacancy (2007). A hotel with a dark past is not the prime choice for most people to stay the evening at, but sometimes what a person can afford unfortunately. This is a tale that seems to be the case with at least two of the guests that stay at the Royale on the particular evening.

The film takes place in 1969 over the course of what turns out to be a rather eventful evening for seven strangers all with a secret they would like to bury. Although some of them attempt to have nothing to do with the other guests their stories intertwine in a manner that unravels in a mysterious manner before the audiences eyes. Director Drew Goddard manages to show us the point of views from all characters while us that reminding us that we all have choices in life to lead to the redemption of their own sins. The viewers are left to wonder which sin is worse than the other and who is ultimately redeemed by the end of the feature.

The film thrusts audiences into a room at the El Royale right away. We know nothing about this character at first other than he rearranges an entire room and ultimately sets the tone for the duration of the film. We still do not know anything about that character until we learn more about Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), room 4. The rooms and the hotel itself play just as important of a role as the actual actors do within the feature because they become an extension of every character we encounter within the feature. In many ways they represent the maze and the facades each character present to each other upon initially meeting one another in the lobby of the hotel.

The true beauty of the film. All these characters together are introduced and audiences feel we have a grip on them. At every turn we learn something that makes us realize differently. We want to believe the good in each character because for the most part they all show us a kind and caring side to themselves. Then of course we realize quickly that some characters within the film will never be redeemable because of the lack of remorse for any of their actions. They see the world in shades of grey and no clear defined lines that allow them to live their lives distinctively along with the rest of the world.

The acting within the film is beyond incredible. Every actor hits every mark and the character development allows us to live through the eyes of every character by not only stepping into their perspectives, but by stepping into their point of views. One of my favorite characters Goddard allows us to learn about within the feature is Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm).  From the moment he steps foot in his hotel the chain of events that follows leaves me wanting to learn more about his character.  In many ways, he is one of the most fascinating characters within the entire film. One of the others is Bridges character.  The more we learn about him the more I feel that his backstory could have provided an riveting story all on its own.  Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) also has the most incredible backstories within the entire feature. He’s also the guy that knows far more than people give him credit for, but would also never suspect.

The surprise of the feature is Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth). Maybe this is because of all those years of viewing Hemsworth as Thor and other characters a bit more wholesome than Lee. While I do not want to give anyway anything this character does within the feature, by the end I felt disgusted by watching him on the screen. Something about this man that made me feel wrong and somewhat dirty. I never thought there would be a role Hemsworth played that made me feel any such way I’d feel remiss by not talking about this role.

The men within the feature are not the only people worth talking about though.  The females, in some cases our femme fatales, have scene stealing moments riddled throughout the feature that will leave someone looking at a woman as someone who fights and does not just accept their current predicaments as their fates.  Both Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) and Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) provide powerful female characters that make all women want to stand up for themselves.  In many moments I found myself as smitten with Darlene’s voice as Father Flynn too. Each song, each note, her voice absolutely mesmerizes the viewer.  Emily reminds women that we should always strive for our best lives and the importance of trusting our gut instincts. Others of course do not see it that way.

Bad Times at the El Royale takes us back to a time that was not as simple as we would all like to believe. That also makes for the convoluted and clever way to tell this story even more fascinating. We were on the cusp of a climate that was working and developing toward much needed social change.  The film allows us to go back in time with its soundtrack grounds us in the setting further. We are finishing the songs and wishing that we could hear the duration of each.  The remarks we have heard and the tensions within the feature are amplified by a soundtrack that plays alongside the characters. With each plot twist and each turn, viewers should treat themselves at a night at the El Royale.  They just need to remember to take it easy on the whiskey.

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