In Bad Times at the El Royale, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave
Seven strangers walk into a run-down hotel bordering on the California-Nevada state line…
Director Drew Goddard (Cabin in the Woods) makes his cinematic return with this period piece, in which a priest, a singer, a slick salesman and a handful of other colourful characters check into the El Royale, a hotel that once housed the rich and famous but has now fallen so far that a single employee runs the entire operation.
It’s also the place where terrible things begin happening to these strangers, all of whom harbour dark secrets of their own. The result is a gripping and artistic romp into a suspenseful hotel drama, helmed by a stellar cast and a killer premise.
Location, location, location
Although the cast consists of some big guns (Jon Hamm as a travelling salesman, Jeff Bridges as a priest, Cynthia Erivo as a struggling but talented soul-singer, Dakota Johnson as a mysterious castaway type, and Chris Hemsworth as some sort of cult leader), the hotel itself is a key character in this film, one that shapes the story and provides a focal point for the action — it’s even based on a historic place.
El Royale is inspired by the real Cal Neva: Originally owned by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and some supposed mobsters when it was purchased in 1960, the hotel had an intricate underground tunnel system and is even believed by some to be the place where Marilyn Monroe actually died.
Hotels (or motels) have always been a great backdrop to psychological horror and suspense— there’s both a historic sense and a lack of familiarity inherent in most hotels that easily lends itself to drama. Look no further than titles like The Shining, Psycho, 1408 or Hostel (and its sequels) for proof. Where else can a screenwriter assemble an otherwise unconnected group of characters for a significant stretch of time and force them to interact? With the story unfolding on one central stage, there’s plenty of room for deep character dives and intricate relationship development.
Adding to the overall Bad Times vibe is its 1969 period setting. Goddard has crafted a stylized tone that pays homage to greats like Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick with his mix of pulp, film noir and technicolour, covering decades of filmmaking techniques in just over two hours.
With its rich setting, soulful soundtrack, and the filmmaker’s deft experience in crafting stories with unexpected twists and memorable characters, El Royale promises to serve up suspenseful storytelling at its best.
Bad Times at the El Royale hits theatres Oct. 12.
See Bad Times at the El Royale with your favourite cinephile.
With a cast this talented and clear influences from some of the best filmmakers we've ever had, this is a film that would be appreciated by a true movie lover, and it would lead to some epic post-film chats.