The hotel El Royale is in decline. Sitting on the state border of California and Nevada, a red line runs through the middle of the lobby, neatly dividing the hotel over the two states. In better days, large crowds used to gamble on the Nevada side, while in California guests filled up the bar. Now, it comes as a surprise for receptionist Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) when there’s a line waiting to check in.
His guests come with surprises of their own. There is salesman Seymour Sullivan (John Hamm), singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), priest Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), and mystery hippie Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). It quickly becomes clear, however, that not all of them are who they say they are, and all come bearing trouble. Meanwhile the El Royale itself seems to be functioning as a sort of precursor to Watergate, and receptionist Miles is shooting up heroin in his office. Add cult leader with a God-complex Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth and his abs), and times become very bad indeed.
Visually there is a lot to enjoy about Bad Times at the El Royale. The hotel’s retro interiors set the scene beautifully, the colours almost pop off the screen, and all sorts of cool knick-knacks take the viewer back to the late 1960s, the jukebox that supplies the film with its incredible soundtrack being the most prominent one. But it’s with the story itself that the film falls short.
In a recent interview with Screenrant, director Drew Goddard admits he started off with the thought of getting “all his favourite actors on the planet to show up all at the same time in a movie”, not knowing yet where exactly the plot would take him. Goddard clearly had a vision of the Tarantino-esque feeling his film should convey (eight strangers, one location, violence ensues; rings a bell?), but although he managed to secure the actors, the plot quickly goes everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Maybe the real problem is there’s just too much of it. Each character comes with their own intriguing background, then there’s the mystery surrounding the hotel itself, but the film fails to resolve most of it in a satisfying way. Goddard managed to get all his actors into the same room alright, and the room does look beautiful, but unfortunately that’s not enough to keep the audience interested throughout the film’s almost two-and-a-half-hour running time.
Image: Twentieth Century Fox