Bad Times at the El Royale

I’ve been searching for a “blog worthy” movie these past few months, but nothing sparked joy. Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) busted that dry spell. 

This crime mystery was exploding with all the classic Film Noir vibes but was completely original. It’s the story of a random group of travelers who all check-in to the dilapidated El Royale hotel. This hotel is no ordinary respite. Once a hopping hotspot for celebrities and high rollers, now, in the early 1970’s, it’s been reduced to an eerie shell of its former self. 

The El Royale has a special appeal, though. It’s split right down the center by the Nevada and California borders. A red line running through the lobby defines which side is which. 

On one half of the lobby, Nevada is represented by cool blues, purples, and silvers, with gambling tables and nightlife glamour. On the other half, California bursts with warm golds, oranges, and creams, making it feel bright and exciting. Visitors to the hotel can choose which state they’d like to stay in. 

Other than this novelty, the only thing we know about the El Royale is that some man buried a bag of money under the floor of one of the rooms in the 1940’s. The first scene of the film reveals this clue. 

Now we have a mystery to uncover, and every character checking into the El Royale is part of it. The El Royale doesn’t see very many guests these days, so the guests we meet are the only current occupants. They include:

  • Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges)
  • Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo)
  • Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson)
  • Laramie Seymour Sullivan (John Hamm)

So, obviously Jeff Bridges is in this, and yes, he is as mesmerizing as you are hoping. The rest of the cast is also truly fantastic, by the way. Aside from the hotel guests, the bellboy, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) is the only other occupant of the El Royale. Chris Hemsworth creeps into this film too, but you don’t need to worry about him right now. 

As with many Noirs, none of these characters are who they seem, but the film slowly presents us with each of their true identities. Who are they? Why are they here at the El Royale? All along, our recollection of the first scene lingers in the back of our minds – at least one of these characters is here for that buried cash. As for the others? The happenings about to go on at the El Royale will intertwine their fates in a way none of them imagined.  

The way writer/director Drew Goddard envisioned and executed this film is dazzling. Every choice was made with thoughtful intention. The color schemes, the cuts, the lighting, the music. As a viewer, I found myself completely engulfed in this world he created. I played detective, trying to guess where the story was going and why, but Bad Times at the El Royale surprised and fascinated me all the way through. I think it will surprise you, too.

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