BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE
Directed by Drew Goddard
Starring Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm and Jeff Bridges
F.I.V.E. star rating:
F. Form: 4 / 5 [style, structure, technique]
I. Impression: 3.5 / 5 [impact, relevance, provocation]
V. Vision: 4 / 5 [audacity, innovation, perspective]
E. Experience: 4.5 / 5 [enjoyment, engagement, delight]
TOTAL: 80 / 100
A stay at the El Royale isn't your typical one. It looks like an ordinary hotel at first glance but dig deeper and you’ll unearth some secrets. This place draws you in to its labyrinth and not all emerge the same on the other side. The film begins with guests arriving at an empty hotel lobby who carry suitcases with secrets of their own. They ring the bell but no one answers.
Finally, somebody impatiently bangs the door on the concierge’s room. He emerges from his slumber to greet the waiting guests. He presents his spiel: the El Royale is built on the border between Nevada and California, signalling towards a thick line on the floor. Guests can choose a room on either side. It's a cute gimmick but as we find out later, is only one of the few architectural quirks of the building.
The guests themselves are clouded with suspicion. There's a vacuum salesman, a priest, a singer and a mysterious young woman. We are introduced to them very slowly. This is a movie that likes to takes its time. Like a good mystery novel, the details we notice about each character thicken the cloud of suspicion around them. It's structured like a novel as well, providing chapters of backstories detailing how each person ended up at the El Royale.
It's languid pacing lulls you until you feel relaxed and, just as you do, it makes a narrative turn so sharp it makes you sit right up. It's a structure that is extremely manipulative but the movie is assured enough that I didn't mind being led along this maze like a dog on a leash. Events grow stranger, implications get darker and the stakes go higher. El Royale is a labyrinth I was in no rush to escape.