REVIEW: ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ builds twisty plot that engages from start to finish


El Royale poster

Alex Novak

“Bad Times at the El Royale” packs in gripping, edge-of-your-seat intensity to deliver one of the best neo-noir thriller films of the year.

The film, set in 1970, presents a unique, nonlinear story that weaves together a quartet of guests’ backstories in an overnight stay at the fictional El Royale hotel and the peculiar actions of its one-person staff as seamlessly as possible.

The story is told in chapters, and the interesting details that come along with each of them seem harmless and simple at first. As the film progresses, the growing overlap of the characters’ stories and the shocking ending the film creates for them results in a true cinematic spectacle.

Many strengths of the story come from its very well-written script, which is no surprise coming from Drew Goddard, who wrote the award-nominated screenplay for “The Martian.”

The film does not need to be flashy to be engaging because its tone is utterly unsettling and remains true to the parameters of the story, which viewers learn in the exposition. From the very first scene and until the plot finally resolves with only about five minutes remaining in its runtime, the audience will feel unnerved.

Goddard’s direction is truly outstanding, as he has a special touch he brings to the film, keeping the uncomfortable tone consistent with his impeccable guidance.

And while the film’s pacing can be slow at times, the raw story makes it hardly noticeable as viewers keep hoping to see how the conflicts that have arisen are solved.

One very vibrant and contrasting item in the story to the plot is the incorporation of many classic R&B tracks, such as ones from The Isley Brothers, Frankie Valli and The Supremes.

This contradiction helps build the intensity by keeping the next event in the dark. Especially given the tone of the previous plot points when they play these tracks, the sudden upbeat songs end up driving the story more than the film’s sparse musical score.

The ensemble cast provides plenty of standout performances, notably delivered by Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Lewis Pullman, Dakota Johnson and Jon Hamm. Their roles embrace a focused charisma across the board and provide an emotional pull that essentially turns this unconventional story into the terrifying one it is.

Ultimately, the unique story this film tells and the performances it encapsulates leave no stone unturned. It entertains fully from start to finish.

Alex Novak is an entertainment reviewer. Contact him at [email protected].