The El Royale is a motel that sits on the state lines of California and Nevada, letting you choose which state you have a room in. Over the course of one stormy evening four guests, the clerk and some uninvited visitors will have an eventful night.
Writer/Director Drew Goddard is known for intelligent, twisting scripts and Bad Times at the El Royale delivers on that front in spades. But whilst very accomplished and entertaining I wonder if it’s the sort of film that will improve on viewings as there were moments in the final third when I was on the verge of tedium. I never quite teetered over the edge but I couldn’t help but feeling there were flaws in the concept.
As far as plot goes, it’s worth establishing some basic facts without spoiling the fun parts. The film starts with Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), vacuum salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) checking into the hotel. All have secretive reasons for being there, some wanting specific rooms and others preferably wanting to be as far away from other guests as possible. The intricate plot then plays out in a Tarantino-esque time structure where each guests story is shown beginning with a title card and overlapping with the others until they merge into one. The pieces fit together brilliantly and the craft on show is excellent. However it struggles for me when the stories join together and the final antagonist joins the plot. I am being hyper critical here though as everything to that moment is great fun.
It’s also worth noting that Goddard’s hotel on state lines is a bit of a red herring in terms of undertone. His main interest is actually American politics during the 1960’s. It features references to Kennedy, Nixon, the Vietnam War and the Charles Manson Family. Although it works much better as a crime thriller, featuring strong performances from Bridges and Erivo who has a stunning voice. The scenes played out to her singing are worth watching the film for.
Perhaps Goddard’s directorial debut Cabin in the Woods set the bar too high for me on this one. A hugely entertaining crime story with intertwining plot threads somehow managed to disappoint in the final third with a weak villain.
And yet, I think I want to see it again.