The Best Movie You've Never Seen
Overlooked in Cinema
In October 2018, I took my fiancé to see a movie to which I had no idea the plot. The trailer gave away nothing and that intrigued me. It was none other than the Drew Goddard directed Bad Times at the El Royale. Sitting in that theater I knew I was experiencing something I was going to remember for years to come. While not a box office hit, it has become a cult classic to those who truly see it for what it is. Bad Times is a good time.
"Shit happens. Get the whiskey." - Father Flynn
The California/Nevada Border
Bad Times is set in 1969 ten years after a bank robbery gone bad. In the first scene we see a man, played by Parks and Rec alum Nick Offerman, bury a bag in the floorboards of a hotel room before getting shot in the back by someone he assumed was a friend. Talk about an opening scene!
Ten years roll by and we get a shot of the hotel itself. Split between being in California and Nevada the whole place has a red border line painted through it on the ground. Metaphorical for the lines between good and evil and the decisions we make, plus a $1 room difference. From there we are introduced to the two main characters Father Daniel Flynn and Darlene Sweet. Flynn of course is played by Oscar winner Jeff Bridges in what could be called another award worthy performance, and Darlene is played by the outstanding Cynthia Erivo.
As the movie progresses we meet the other unlucky guests for the evening including the Jon Hamm vacuum salesman who dominates the conversation for the time he's in the movie, and the mysterious woman played by 50 Shades actress Dakota Johnson, whose performance is one of the few missteps in a near perfect film. We are also introduced to the hotel's bellhop, maintenance, and housekeeper Miles Miller (with a breakout performance by Lewis Pullman) who says to Flynn upon arrival "This is not a place for a priest Father. You shouldn't be here."
The Music of the El Royale
The movies boasts an impressive Tarantino style with much of its design, but it's never as apparent as the soundtrack which includes Edwin Starr, Frankie Valli, and two songs performed incredibly by star Cynthia Erivo.
Red or Black?
As the movie progresses we find the hotel, and its guests are not what they appear. We see the salesman rip up the walls trying to find something, we see the priest tear up the floor, and we see the sole hotel employee shoot up in his office. It all comes to a head when Jon Hamm finds a room behind the hotel room mirrors...
As the mysteries play out we are shown the same scene through different perspectives and scenes of extensive background for each guest as to why they made the unfortunate decision to stay here tonight. We watch with heartbreak as Father Flynn explains to Darlene how he just can't remember things like he used to and it's not just because of his age. We hear Darlene practice her singing alone in her room. We are faced with the dilema of seeing a kidnapped sister tied up in a chair, and the bloody mess that comes from it. Eventually it all comes to a head when Dakota Johnson's character and her sister are found by cult leader Billy Lee portrayed by what I would call a top tier performance by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth. Inspired by the cult leaders of the 1960's, especially Charles Manson, Hemsworth portrays a man so hungry for power, yet so alone, even surrounded by a flock of followers. He ties up the remaining characters and plays a deadly game of roulette.
Different Than the Rest
What makes this film stand out from others is the story itself. With it set in the 60's there is already a feel to the film even before the characters are introduced. Add the music, the rain, and the eeriness from every character that aren't who they say they are and you get a movie that you truly don't know what will happen. It's very much inspired by Quentin Tarantino, yet Drew Goddard brings his own spin to filmmaking, causing it to be an anomaly in modern cinema. It's long, at 141 minutes, yet takes the viewer for a ride that is smooth at times, bumpy at others, but no one is asking "Are we there yet?".