Bad Times at the El Royale (Drew Goddard, 2018) 3½ out of 4 stars.
Drew Goddard, the creator of Netflix’s popular Daredevil series, spills his trademark wit and mixed-genre writing into the high-stakes world of a classic noir mystery in Bad Times at the El Royale. Held together by an astonishing cast, the film tells the story of seven strangers who meet at a rundown Lake Tahoe venue named the El Royale, a once-thriving hotel that still proudly advertises the fact it sits right on the border of California and Nevada. You can choose to spend your time drinking in California, or you can make your way across the lobby and try your luck at the hotel’s casino in Nevada. The hotel’s visitors – a traveling vacuum salesman, a struggling R&B singer, a priest and a defiant hippie – are certainly amused by the kitsch and charm of this hotel but only wish to be left alone for the night.
Sadly, the patrons of the El Royale soon learn of its dark and disturbing secrets and the secrets of each other. Bad Times at the El Royale is a thrilling and entertainingly complex reminder of why it is the time for the noir crime genre to make its return to the mainstream film circuit. The film’s star-studded cast includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth, who do far more than just go through the motions. Drew Goddard puts these actors to work. Bridges and relative newcomer Cynthia Erivo bring a surprising amount of heart to their respective roles of Father Daniel Flynn and Darlene Sweet. They are two souls looking for the golden chance to start anew. Their connection is the prize at the end of the finish line; the award that will carry you through all the violence, the dramatic upsets, and unexpected turns like Chris Hemsworth’s entrance as the crazed cult leader Billy Lee.
As advertised in the trailers and television spots, Chris Hemsworth is El Royale’s black sheep. The chaos that is already in full swing at the hotel comes to a grinding halt, and Lord only knows what this flower child has in store for these people. Hemsworth is in full form as Billy Lee. After years of being on glamour and men’s health magazines, Hemsworth utilizes his natural charm and stupidly impressive physique to full effect and adds a pinch of deranged lunacy for good measure. Bad Times at the El Royale is a thriller that demands your attention for every minute it is on screen. In the spirit of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Drew Goddard has fashioned a well-executed murder mystery that pays tribute to the class and kitsch of dying 1960s leisure and will most assuredly become a cult classic ten or fifteen years from now.