Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Drew Goddard
Run Time
2 hours and 21 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Behold, the wicked man conceives evil, and is pregnant with mischief, and brings forth lies.

Psalm 7:14
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:7
Three guests wonder where the El Royale desk manager is. (c) 20th Century Fox

Drew Goddard’s bloody neo-noir crime film surprised me almost as much as Quinten Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction by the emergence of the theme of grace and repentance at the conclusion. If ever someone stood in need of “amazing grace” it is the miserable person dying in the fire-ravaged lobby of Lake Tahoe’s El Royale.

The ads list seven strangers who come together, but the motel itself should be seen as an eighth “character. Though run-down since its fabulous days in the Fifties when the Rat Pack hung out there, its faded neon glory in the later Sixties is still impressive, and its sole employee, manager/desk clerk/bartender/housekeeper/ Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) gives his canned welcome speech to all new arrivals. This emphasizes that the red line dividing the motel into two equal halves is the state line between Nevada and California. The glitzy juke box still plays 78 rpm records, and large bar seems always open for residents to mix their own drinks.

What brings some of the strangers to the motel we surmise is what happened in one of the rooms ten years earlier, shown in an opening scene. A man in a hat and overcoat starts prying up the floorboards of his room as soon as he enters, stashes a satchel of money beneath the floor, and a few moments later is killed by someone shooting shotgun pellets into his back.

The current action opens with three guests arriving simultaneously to check in: brash salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm); hard-drinking Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges); and hopeful lounge singer Darlene Sweet (a Cynthia Erivo). Soon happyish, but sour talking, Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson) roars up in a sporty car—and we soon learn she has a young woman, Rose Summerspring (Cailee Spaeny), tied up and gagged in the trunk, whom she sneaks into her room.

The film’s first four chapters are named after each room number the guests select. As they interact, and we see flashbacks, it quickly is evident that nobody, except Darlene, is who they say they are—and that they all can be observed by Miles through the one-way mirrors in each room that open onto a secret corridor. At one end of that hallway sits on a tripod a 16 mm camera. Clearly this sinister place has been used for a long time by person or persons intent on getting the goods on its guests.

As rain descends on the place another creepy figure barges in, the motor-mouthed Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), head of a cult connected to two of the guests. Before the night ends one guest packing a gun and a badge will die first, and then others in a series of bloody incidents punctuated by flashbacks which reveal the secrets of all concerned and thus why they stand in need of grace. It might seem ironic that the bank robber posing as a priest actually becomes the dispenser of grace. This leads me to affirm again that God is a jokester who will always have the last laugh on is foolish mortals.

The movie also treats us to several songs beautifully performed by Darlene, clearly demonstrating that she, who checked into the Royale to save money while performing at a low-paying gig not far away, has a bright future as a singer—if she can but survive this blood-soaked night.

 This review will be in the November issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.


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