If Vegas is Sin City, what exactly might you call a Lake Tahoe establishment split between California and Nevada? The once majestic El Royale hotel, the centerpiece for ‘Bad Times at the El Royale,’ has fallen on bad times, and it’s about to get a little worse with the arrival of a group of strangers, each with a secret to hide amidst this stop over. And it’s safe to say the El Royale has some pretty interesting secrets of its own.
One by one, we’re introduced to the elderly, somewhat confused Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), aspiring vocalist Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), smooth talking but sexist vacuum cleaner salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and the mysterious bad ass hippie chick Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), all seeking refuge for the evening in the mostly abandoned former Rat Pack hang in the late 60s. There to greet them is the hotel’s seemingly lone employee, the boyishly scatterbrained concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). After pleasantries (or not so pleasantries in Emily’s case) are exchanged and everyone’s true motives start to reveal themselves.
Writer/director Drew Goddard jumps around the timeline with ease, telling the story of the occupant of each room, giving a bit of their backstory and the darker history that brought each to this moment in time, converging together ahead of a storm that’s brewing. The fivesome soon become seven with the addition of the charismatically dangerous Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) and Emily’s troubled sister Ruth (Cailee Spaeny) and to reveal more would give away key plot points. Suffice it to say, some may find redemption at the El Royale, while others are just in for plain bad times, and allegiances are formed and broken in the fight to survive the night in this establishment that has even more secrets than its inhabitants.
Bridges headlines this stellar cast, giving a heartfelt performance as the not so holy man of the cloth, while Hamm also steals a few scenes early on. But the real finds in this film are the names you may not recognize. Cynthia Erivo wows not only with her voice, but the heart and determination she embodies as the often overlooked and fed up Darlene Sweet, while the fresh faced Pullman as the hotel’s overseer projects innocence lost in one of the film’s most prominent back stories.
Goddard captures the look of the era quite well, giving the film a stylish feel befitting of the time period. The story telling devices work, fleshing out each individual character and keeping the stakes high at every turn with the ultimate final conflict feeling fully earned and satisfying. The conflicts make you think, the characters engage and Bad Times at the El Royale leaves the viewer with a great two and a half hours of viewing.