Chew's Reviews - Bad Times at The El Royale

By Gary Chew |  October 12, 2018  |

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The El Royale sits smack dab on the California/Nevada line. (Pardon the redundancy in this movie title, as “Bad Times At The El Royale” does contain a considerable amount of humor, but there's so much more in store.)

Seven strangers congregate at the El Royale. It's the Sixties in the Tahoe vicinity. First, a disrespectful vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm) shows up; an African-American female singer (Cynthia Erivo) arrives looking to get a cheap room to overnight before going onto her Reno club gig; collar and all, an absent-minded Catholic priest named Daniel (Jeff Bridges) appears and a junkie clerk called Miles (Lewis Pullman), working the deserted hostelry, checks the trio in. Miles is keen on whether his guests wish to stay in California or Nevada. Taxes are slightly higher in the Golden State. (So I've heard.)

Two more characters traipse in during the second act: sisters Emily (Dakota Johnson) and the younger Ruth (Cailee Spaeny). Emily scribbles dirty words in the guest book. Ruth watches with empty eyes. Act three has a dude finally getting to the “party.” He'd be called Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth). Billy's totally empty ... and dangerous.

Some of these strangers are not ... I repeat ... not what you think. The rest are clearly who they seem to be. But you get to figure it all out, and the writer/director of this clever yarn, Drew Goddard, lays it all out as such. Exposition comes late ... with circumstance and development leading the way. I just love stories that carry along that way, giving opportunity for the threads to roll around again from a different perspective. By the way, Goddard became known for a spec script he wrote for HBO's "Six Feet Under."

While watching El Royale, other movies flashed me to works of Hitchcock, Tarantino and those Coen brothers. Funny, dark, creepy and violent, with so much twisting in the wind as to how Goddard wants it to blow at a particular moment. The first two or three quick switchbacks that suddenly splay across the screen are disconcerting, but once seeing what Goddard's up to, all the back-and-forth'ing begins to fall together, pretty much, like a completed jigsaw puzzle.

Come to find out, ye old Royale was constructed to the liking of any peeping tom worth his voyeurism. There's a film camera on its tripod in the corner of a complex and sequestered hallway. And you have get a load of the one-way peek windows that were installed decades ago so peepers in the dark hall may do their best at focusing on covert cinematography for any event within the several rooms of the old El Royale. Naturally, all rooms are bugged for sound. Off/on switches are handily attached so a “viewer” can choose to hear what's going on.

The El Royale was clearly designed to keep records of certain patrons … even though the guests don't know anyone else is watching what a good time they might be having. But Goddard needs for the bad times to roll at the El Royale.

The hurtful times connect to all seven strangers as you accurately learn, for real, “whatzup”; each in fits and starts. Did I mention this movie is quite violent? And there are a few really humorous things said, especially by Bridges as Father Daniel. He spends a good deal of time at the El Royale bar. A priestly outburst occurs in one scene when Father Daniel barks, “Shit! Get the whiskey!”

Musically, you'll get a sumptuous serving of Motown Music so popular at the time Goddard's film is set. The Royale's vintage jukebox only costs a quarter to play that hit you want to hear again.

You'd expect the good, the bad and even the ugly times that occur at this relic of a hotel up in the lovely Sierra Nevada to have absolutely no connection to anything remotely connected to things such as Grace and Redemption … but they do. And you'll feel good about that.
Copyright © 2018 by Gary Chew.  All rights reserved


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