With most films, you leave the theatre feeling a certain satisfaction of having watched a movie that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. But, with Bad Times at the El Royale, there is a good chance you will not know what you feel, what time it is, or what the hell just happened?
Bad Times at the El Royale follows the path-crossing of four intriguing characters at the once-bustling, now-deserted, El Royale hotel. A vacuum salesman by the name of Laramie Sullivan (John Hamm); a priest Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges); struggling singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo); and hot-tempered hippie Emily (Dakota Johnson). All these characters lodge at the bi-state hotel, lying on the border between California and Nevada and guarded only by the bellboy/bartender/clerk Miles (Lewis Pullman). As each of the characters’ deep-rooted secrets are revealed and their fates intertwine, mystery, madness, and even murder are all on the table.
The film’s first act was also very promising; setting up the audience for an exciting thriller to come. Instead, the film just has the audience asking more and more questions. It’s not that the new questions are not as intriguing or that we do not get any answers at all but, it’s just that each answer is like an unfinished thought.
This mystery is engaging for the first act and a good 60 minutes (less than half of the 140- minute feature) but the film’s second act does not really deliver on the intrigue of the first. We discover more secrets about each character and learn about a part of their past, as well as how creepy the El Royale really is, but we do not delve into any of the stories nor do we have a grand collision between all these subplots. Instead, the film continues on the premise that it was only a coincidence that all these characters crossed paths at the El Royale and that all of them just happened to have deep dark secrets.
The film’s third act, where the charismatic cult leader (Chris Hemsworth) is added to the mix, takes the film on a sharp left turn away from an Agatha Christie-like story to a twisted version of a judgement for sins story.
The film is beautifully shot with incredible cinematography, satisfyingly symmetrical frames, and notably mesmerising shots.
As for the acting, Jeff Bridges is definitely the one to remember with infinite charisma, powerful expressions, telling body language, and an overall unforgettable performance. A close second to Bridges is Chris Hemsworth who (unbelievable abs aside) completely transformed into the deranged cult leader he was playing, never once did the audience remember that it was actually him.
Even though his role was not the largest, Lewis Pullman left a big mark on the audience with his moving performance, especially towards the end of the film. John Hamm’s role was also not huge, but the part he played was as great as can be. Cynthia Erivo was able to hold her own within this abundance of talent, falling only shortly behind but with her character’s singing pushing her upwards. As for Dakota Johnson, her performance was average, made even more so when compared to her co-stars.
Audiences will disagree about this one but, if you like mysteries, don’t need to always have a grasp on what in the world is happening, and want to see a shirtless six packed Chris Hemsworth, then maybe you should take this odd ride.