Bad Times at the El Royale, (Mostly) Good Times at the Theater

Maggie Flaherty ‘20

Chief Features Editor

The star-studded cast and countless mysteries that surround the plot of the film “Bad Times at the El Royale” should have been enough to keep me interested on a Sunday afternoon, but unfortunately the two and a half-hour run time lost me in its latter half.  The movie is set exclusively at a motor lodge that prides itself on the gimmick that its rooms are equally split between the Nevada-California border. The El Royale’s only employee is an anxious young man named Miles, who serves as the bartender, custodian, and conceierge. He is asleep in the motel’s back room self-medicating when the five guests arrive: salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan played by Jon Hamm, a forgetful priest played by Jeff Bridges, an aspiring singer played by Cynthia Erivo, and an argumentative hippie who refuses to sign the hotel’s ledger played by Dakota Johnson.

Erivo’s character Darlene Sweet lives up to her name and is the only wholesome character in the movie – the motel is the only thing she can afford on a backup singer’s salary. Writer-director Drew Goddard uses Erivo’s broadway credits to the movie’s advantage, and the best scenes of the movie occur when Goddard juxtaposes the ominous happenings of the motel with Erivo’s stunning singing voice.  Two separate pivotal scenes are set to “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “This Old Heart of Mine”. With the tediously long run time, however, Darlene Sweet’s musical moments are overused and eventually become monotonous. Goddard also makes the artistic choice to refilm scenes from the perspective of multiple characters; at first, it produces a cool effect, but after the third time I can only imagine that every viewer was as fed up as I was, hopelessly wishing for the plot to start moving forward.

Slowly, the films’ plot unravels to reveal the characters’ real motives for staying at the seedy motel. The guests of the motel are pretty shady: Johnson’s character kidnapped her sister in an effort to save them from an unnamed “bad man”, the salesman is an undercover FBI agent who cuts the engines of every other guests’ car, and the priest is a prisoner in disguise. Even Miles, the employee, is tasked with spying and filming motel guests from a series of underground tunnels and two way mirrors that look into every room.

The movie takes place during the 1960s, and Goddard takes every opportunity to make historical nods to the era. Chris Hemsworth joins the guests in the climax of the film playing a Charles Manson-esque cult leader named Billy Lee, and Bridges’ character stumbles upon a scandalous roll of film depicting a famous United States senator in a risque situation – one that critics presume is an allusion to Robert Kennedy or John F. Kennedy. Overall, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is an engaging watch. I would recommend going to see it on a lazy night – it might entertain you, or the run time might put you to sleep, but it’s worth a ticket.  
Movie Poster from “Bad Times at the El Royale”


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