Nerdlocker Movie Review: Bad Times at the El Royale


“I believe that life is chaotic, a jumble of accidents, ambitions, misconceptions, bold intentions, lazy happenstances, and unintended consequences, yet I also believe that there are connections that illuminate our world, revealing its endless mystery and wonder.” – David Maraniss

I’ve read “Tarantino rip-off” or “…an homage to Tarantino”. Either way is it a bad thing to be mentioned in the same breath as one of the greatest directors to ever live? I don’t think so but I’ve been told I’m a bit simple so what do I know?

Described as pulpy, Bad Times at the El Royale aptly fits this description containing gratuitous violence and dynamic dialogue from an eclectic group of strangers. Each person that finds themselves at the El Royale is a distressed, lost soul searching for the answers they so desperately seek. Unfortunately for each of them, the El Royale is anything but a sanctuary to collect one’s thoughts. From the moment you see the hotel things seem off, like something unknown but certainly unwholesome is taking place somewhere on the property. What an understatement that is haha!

Like a Tarantino film, El Royale is broken up into what are essentially chapters showcasing the moments of each character that eventually led them to this dubious inn. While not everyone is exactly criminal most are anything but innocent. Emily, Laramie, Father Flynn, Darlene, and Miles have all found themselves in the clutches of a place far more sinister than anything they have planned. But as the day plays out as usual for the hotel its inhabitants bring their own complications culminating in a night of pure mayhem as the forces of savagery and smooth talking collide. The entire night is a culmination of action and reaction among some very unsavory people.

Each character has a past that is wanting in happiness and hoping to be forgotten for a more coherent future. Regrettably the El Royale has a knack for bringing out even the most deeply hidden secrets of its passer-bys. Distrust leads to paranoia which in the blink of an eye turns to unjustified brutality. One of the best aspects to this story is that every character, every last one, is expendable. No matter the name of the actor behind the character they are most likely headed to an early grave probably somewhere in the back of the hotel. The harder they try to avoid one another the harder they clash together with a forceful intent.

Often times a catalyst that can bring people together is a threat greater than any one of them. Enter Billy Lee. His intentions are entirely based in a desire to maintain power in every form. If he wants that power held over the guests of the once famous El Royale then so be it. His actions seem to have zero consequences on his choices as so often he has his mindless followers carry out any task he demands. As we watch Billy Lee’s chapter we see the charismatic command of a cult leader as he brainwashes current and future minions who hang on every word he spews. Cut to the hotel as he holds everyone hostage for no reason beyond him feeling disrespected. He is an egomaniac of the highest order. His influence over a room full of less than ethical sociopaths is going to end in bloodshed, no other outcome is possible.

Every character is given their time and each actor shines and carries the others as this chaotic work plays out to its most treacherous, violent climax. A personal favorite of mine is Miles, played by Lewis Pullman. He is an unassuming, timid young man who clearly knows the dark secrets this place conceals. As he braves the trappings of a wicked group of hotel guests his demeanor and motivations begin to mutate into something both volatile but equally heartbreaking. He isn’t innocent by any stretch but due to past circumstances that have left him with a splintered soul his desire to leave this horrid place behind is overwhelmed forcing him to carry out the desires of hotel “management”. His character is in depth and complicated and Pullman delivers a tremendous performance.

Somehow every character is interesting and relatable even if their histories are clouded in deplorable behavior. The actors are given a playground to run and play and pick apart their characters to an exciting completion. The camera jumps around creating a feeling of uncertainty leaving you constantly wondering what the hell is going to happen next. It forces you to prepare for the unexpected but with such a smartly constructed screenplay that preparation is often mistimed or altogether useless. It can create moments that put you at ease only to have the calm disintegrated by the pull of a trigger.

Bad Times at the El Royale was a highly anticipated film for me and for my money it played out beautifully. From the unhinged performances of fascinating characters with engaging dialogue and the charming setting of a rural, kitschy hotel to its satisfying conclusion and gratifying pulpy violence along the way, Bad Times is a nothing but a great time at the movies. Enjoy your stay.

Rated R For: strong violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity
Runtime: 140 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, Cynthia Erivo
Directed By: Drew Goddard

Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4.5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 4.5 Nerdskulls

Buy to Own: Yes

Check out the trailer below:

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Chase Gifford

"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world"-Jean-Luc Godard