Bad Times at the El Royale featured

Review: ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is a Good Time for Noir Fans

October 11, 2018Ben MK

A priest, a Motown singer and an appliance salesman walk into a motel — but in Drew Goddard's Bad Times at the El Royale, what starts out as the set-up for a potential joke ends up delivering much more of a satisfying and thrilling payoff than any punch line ever could.

When three complete strangers — Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) and Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) — check in for a night at the El Royale, an otherwise unoccupied motel straddling the border between California and Nevada, it marks the beginning of a twisty-turny mystery, at the center of which lies a stash of stolen cash — the spoils of a bank robbery gone awry ten years earlier — hidden beneath the floorboards of one of the motel's rooms. The question, however, is not whether the money will be found, but rather which characters will survive to the very end.

Enter the mysterious Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), a woman on the run from something bad. Arriving at the El Royale with her younger sister (Cailee Spaeny) in tow, Emily is the last guest to check in, but she certainly won't be the last visitor to walk through the motel's doors. For little does Emily nor anyone else realize that the equally charismatic, equally unhinged Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) and his small army of followers are about to descend upon the El Royale, and they're bringing a hellish reckoning with them.

Rounding out the cast is Lewis Pullman as Miles Miller, the El Royale's sole staff member, who also happens to be carrying a weighty burden on his shoulders. As he tells all new guests, not only is he the bellhop, he’s also in charge of maintaining the rooms. But what he doesn't mention is that each room comes equipped with more than just the usual amenities, but two-way mirrors and secret microphones as well — all the better for secretly recording guests and capturing any salacious comings and goings that might prove noteworthy to "management."

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam era, Bad Times at the El Royale unspools as a classic noir thriller, one where no one is quite who they say they are and where nothing is quite as it seems. And it's here that Goddard does some of his best work, fully embracing the many complexities and nuances of the genre and building on them to construct something that not only stands on its own, but which also pays appropriate homage to its forebears.

Ultimately, however, it's the ensemble cast that brings Bad Times at the El Royale to life, from Erivo's down-on-her-luck songstress to Hemsworth's turn as a manipulative madman. Collectively, their multilayered performances contribute color to the film's dark, noir storyline, making this one of the most delightfully twisted mystery thrillers to grace the genre in a long time.

Bad Times at the El Royale releases October 12th, 2018 from 20th Century Fox. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 21 min.

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