By The Nerdling
It is difficult to describe El Royal without giving too much away. This stylish noir film starts off is strange and then goes plain bonkers. It is almost best to go into this film as blind as you can. The trailers give you just enough of the weird vibes to tease you. After seeing it, I wish they would have given less away. It would have been more fun to not know the some of the motivations behind certain characters.
El Royal is a fairly standard strangers up to no good at a remote hotel during a storm kind of film. A priest, a vacuum cleaner salesman, a singer, and a hippy passing thru. The once famed El Royal, which sits on the border of California and Nevada, is cheap and isolated. Almost everyone has a few secrets.
Drew Goddard’s script divulges the bulk of the mysteries early in the films too long run time. There is a couple of reveals towards the end. No significant, plot changing twists. Just a couple of revelations explaining a person or situation a little better. There are a few throwaway plots happening in the background to add color. It is best not to get too invested in them as they are not resolved in any way.
What makes this a film worth seeing are the performances. Dakota Johnson and Jon Hamm do a pretty good job with their limited roles. Jeff Bridges delivers, as always, as a crook posing as a priest. Hemsworth and his abs ooze sex and creepiness as a Charles Manson-esq cult leader. I would absolutely join that cult if it meant I would be seeing a shirtless Hemsworth all the time. If I had a complaint about El Royal, it is not enough of Hemsworth’s abs. That and the 2 hour and 20-minute run time. If you are going to make a movie that long, then have more of those abs. Sorry to harp on that, but really. Wouldn’t you want a movie with more of this?
The true stand outs are the relative new comers to film, Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman. Their characters, a struggling singer and the hotel’s clerk, are the film’s emotional anchors amidst the chaos. Pullman has had a few small roles here and there, but he was never the attention grabber. Erivo is a Tony award-winning actress with El Royal as her film debut. She is a quite powerhouse with a monologue that made me want to stand up and cheer in the theater. The majority of her time on screen is spent with Bridges and the two absolutely shine. I hope to see another film with them together.
Goddard’s directing helped to push the movie past the standard tropes. He makes good use of the 60’s style in adding to the strange atmospheric feel. The two-way mirrors in each of the hotel rooms are used to create a nice sense of tension and allow for the story to unfold in different ways.
A biggest flaw is the catalyst moment which drives the plot forward. It is played again and again from various character’s points of view. I wish Goddard would have chosen to reveal new bits and pieces of information with each telling. By the time we see the scene played out for the final time, it becomes stale and the shock of it is long gone.
Bad Times at the El Royal takes a well-used concept and adds some top-notch performances while leaning heavily on the strange. While it is entertaining, the film’s run time could have been cut a little short. Definitely worth a watch when it arrives on cable. If only for the abs.
The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.