Good time with Bad Times at the El Royale

Venie Soares, Lead Reporter

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Fill a cocktail shaker with an outstanding cast, add one-part classic movie genre, one-part groovy 1960’s soundtrack and serve in a kitschy souvenir hotel glass. 

“Bad Times at the El Royale” serves up a slow building, mystery /thriller fashioned after B-movies and film noir from the 1950’s. The story is classic noir, a group of strangers are brought together by unusual circumstances at a rundown, isolated hotel. 

Writer/ Director Drew Goddard pays attention to all the details. Dialog is adult and sprinkled with witty and sly humor. The characters talk to each other, not to the camera. He shoots the ensemble cast and their escapades using jump cuts, flashbacks and title cards to set up scenes. There’s a vivid contrast between the bright, cheesy neon of the El Royale Hotel and its dark recesses. The soundtrack is filled with original Motown hits, soulful acapella performances by Cynthia Erivo, and creepy-crawly orchestration that helps build tension. 

The hotel holds as many secrets as its guests. Hidden cameras, eavesdropping devices and two-way mirrors document the sometimes-nefarious activities of guests inside their rooms. The El Royale is based on the infamous, real-life Calneva Lodge on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. Legend tells us about the many scandalous secrets of the original mafia-owned hotel. The movie touches on one these legends.  

The movie begins in 1959, as a hotel guest is murdered in his room. The story jumps to 1969 as the strangers meet and check-in to the hotel. None of the guests are what they seem: all are looking for something. Whether it be revenge, treasure, or redemption. They all carry secrets that are revealed in intertwined sub plots and linked up in a final climactic standoff. 

The stellar cast features Jeff Bridges as a priest, Jon Hamm as a traveling vacuum salesman, Dakota Johnson as a bad-assed hippie chick, newcomer Cynthia Erivo as a road-weary soul singer and Lewis Pullman as the hotel’s troubled desk clerk. An hour into the movie, Chris Hemsworth enters as a Charles Manson-like cult leader. 

The movie is rated R. It’s sprinkled with graphic violence. Not stylish violence, it’s sudden, horrific acts committed by characters who live in a violent underworld. 

There’s sure to be comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s movies. This film reaches farther back, to an era when movies made you think, made you follow along and used twists and turns to slowly build tension. 

The movie is good, not great. The 1960’s cultural references that run all through the movie will be understood better by older audiences, it runs long and leaves some questions left unanswered. If you must be bombarded with special effects and super human feats, this won’t be the movie for you. But if you like original, adult-themed movies and can keep your attention for two and a half hours, “Bad Times at the El Royale” is worth watching. 

At least one thing is for sure, you will never feel the same about hotel mirrors.

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