Warning: Some minor spoilers ahead for “Bad Times at the El Royale.”
It’s difficult to accurately describe “Bad Times at the El Royale.”
Director Drew Goddard (“The Cabin In the Woods,” “The Good Place” pilot) weaves together a story of seven strangers who come together in 1969 at the El Royale, a hotel that lies on the border of California and Nevada, with half the rooms on each side.
It starts with vacuum salesman Seymour Laramie Sullivan (Jon Hamm), struggling singer Darlene (Cynthia Erivo), and not-really-a-priest Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) meeting at the eclectic hotel and trying to locate the hotel concierge. They eventually find Miles (Lewis Pullman) who serves as the hotel’s concierge, bartender, bellhop, cleaner, and every other employee a hotel needs. They are all soon thrown for a loop with the arrival of Emily (Dakota Johnson), Rose (Cailee Spaeny), and Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth).
But I can’t really explain any other details without giving everything away.
Why you should care: It upends expectations.
It’s hard to grasp exactly what “Bad Times” is about after watching the trailer, and even the full movie lends itself to more questions.
Everyone in the hotel is harboring some secret – some worse than others – and they come out in sporadic, severely violent twists. It jumps between characters to explain their back stories before connecting them in startling ways. But the characters are not the only ones concealing their motives from each other. The hotel itself is full of secrets that are never quite explained.
Just when you think you understand what’s happening, something else will come and destroy any preconceived notion you had.
What’s hot: The ensemble cast nails it.
Simply listing the cast should be enough to get people interested in this movie. There’s Oscar winner Jeff Bridges, “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, Marvel’s Thor Chris Hemsworth, “50 Shades of Grey” actress Dakota Johnson, “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, and Broadway queen Cynthia Erivo – just to name a few.
While everyone in the cast is incredible, there are three particular standouts who deserve the most attention: Erivo, Pullman, and Hemsworth.
While already a Broadway sensation, Erivo shines in her film debut. Darlene is a singer dealing with the racist, sexist recording industry (and world) and finds herself thrust into a dangerous situation. There’s one particular scene towards the end where this initially reserved character gives a powerful speech about domineering men that feels particularly relevant.
And thankfully, Goddard has Erivo sing, showing her voice to an audience that probably wasn’t lucky enough to catch her live on Broadway in “The Colour Purple.” The soundtrack for “Bad Times” is exceptional and all of Erivo’s song covers are worth listening to over and over again.
Pullman, actor Bill Pullman’s son, played Miles the hotel worker. His range of emotions and the turmoil he deals with was portrayed so well.
Additionally, Hemsworth’s bare-chested portrayal of a Mason-esque cult leader was as terrifying as it was riveting.
What’s not: It’s dragged out.
“Bad Times” is two hours and 21 minutes, and there are some moments where it feels like it. While the danger and the intrigue and the violence are major components to the plot, there is some unnecessary exposition and many more quiet moments than one would anticipate. It also jumps around, so it can be slightly confusing if one isn’t paying close enough attention.
The bottom line: It’s not going to be everyone’s favourite.
Some, like me, will walk out of the theatre in awe and continue talking about the beautiful cinematography, the masterful cast, and the maniacal concepts. Others, like the man snoring a few seats away from me during part of the movie, may find Goddard’s story sluggish. But I recommend giving this movie a shot. There’s nothing else like it right now.
“Bad Times at El Royale” opens in theatres Friday.
Watch the trailer below.
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